Wasn't that fun? After a couple of weeks of less than beautiful football games, Utah and UCLA put one together for all of the offensive afficionados out there in a 52-45 Utes win at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Led by Joe Williams Utah record of 332 rushing yards on 29 carries to go along with 4 touchdowns, the Utes survived in the final minutes to move to 7 and 1 on the season, setting up a showdown next weekend with Washington and College Gameday in town.
The Williams story is one of the best in college football this season. I was concerned it wouldn't work. It has....and then some. Unbelievable.
Remember the first quarter performance by the offensive line where Tak McKinley and UCLA's defensive front used and abused the Utes (I'm looking at you Sam Tevi)? Me neither. The final 3 quarters were a masterpiece in run blocking as they destroyed UCLA defenders play after play after play helping Joe Williams pick up 310 of his 332 yards in the final 46 minutes. Garrett Bolles was pushing guys six feet under with monster block after block, while Isaac Asiata and Salesi Uhatafe gobbled up defenders and pushed them backwards like they were a group of kindergarteners. Utah did all of this with their 4th string center in Nick Nowakowski getting his third start and looking very comfortable and effective. Williams gets the game ball, but the offensive line ins't far behind despite giving up 6 sacks.
Can we just call Troy Williams big play Troy now? The efficiency was poor again this week, but he didn't need to be great. All he had to do was make the big throws when he needed to, and Williams did that with two long ones to Cory Butler-Bird and Siaosi Wilson. He's not perfect, on a week like this, Troy Williams did enough to give his team a chance to win. When other guys are going off, that's all you can ask.
Oh, defense. UCLA was one-dimensional and the Bruins still lit up the scoreboard and the yardage totals. Missing Marcus Williams really hurt out there on Saturday. Jordan Fogal had the big 4th down stop and two interceptions, but they were dropped into his lap. He really struggled outside of that against a backup quarterback. Williams needs to get back soon. Chase Hansen had his worst game of the season with too many missed tackles (but the forced fumble was a beautiful skill play) and the overall scheme was poor for much of the game. UCLA out-schemed Morgan Scalley this week, but he was facing an offensive scheme that the Bruins hadn't shown all season long, so that's going to work against him. The injuries were a big factor. There's no way UCLA's backup without a running game should put up 45 points on a Utah defense, even with the injuries, but those were glaring on Saturday. The takeaways ended up being the ultimate balancing out by the defense, so I'll credit them for being opportunistic. Washington won't make those mistakes next week.
Special teams turned out to be a big win for the Utes this week as Cory Butler-Bird started the game off with his kickoff return for a TD. Mitch Wishnowsky did his thing and Andy Phillips may have been the unsung hero in hitting three deep field goals. UCLA couldn't return any kicks as the coverage was solid. I do think it is time to open up the punt return duties though. Boobie's fumble didn't hurt as McKay made a great recovery, but Hobbs makes too many mistakes. Reliability back there is the most important thing and you're not getting it.
Game 1 of the gauntlet is over and the Utes have survived. The Bruins are better and more talented than their 3-5 record would indicate, so don't look at this one lightly. Now it's on to arguably the Pac 12 regular season game of the year against the Huskies. Get through that, a tall task, and we can not only realistically start talking Pac 12 championship, but it would propel the Utes into the top 10 and a college football playoff spot becomes a possibility if they can win out. Considering these guys just keep finding a way to get Ws in different ways, 4 more wins to close out the regular season wouldn't shock me. At this point, nothing will with this team.