CFN Take: Utah Stuns USC On Late TD

Posted Oct 25, 2014

2014 Utah Utes ... Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham

2014 Utah Utes   

2014 Schedule
Record: 6-1

Aug. 28 Idaho State W 56-14
Sep. 6 Fresno State W 59-27
Sep. 20 at Michigan W 26-10
Sep. 27 Washington St L 28-27
Oct. 4 at UCLA W 30-28
Oct. 16 at Oreg St W 29-23 2OT
Oct. 25 USC W 24-21
Nov. 1 at Arizona State
Nov. 8 Oregon
Nov. 15 at Stanford
Nov. 22 Arizona
Nov. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 25 at Utah 24, USC 21
And You Care Because … Utah QB Travis Wilson dove into the end zone for the apparent game-winning touchdown, but he was called out of bounds. He got another chance, and he made good on a one-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds left to get it done. USC had control late, but couldn’t put the game away as kicking problems forced the O to go for it on fourth down, and WR Nelson Agholor stepped out of bounds short of the first down. The scoring was strange from the start, as USC’s Darreus Rogers thought a play was dead, but it was a lateral returned by Davion Orphey for a 53-yard touchdown. Cody Kessler kept USC in it with a ten-yard pass to JuJu Smith in the second and a four-yard touchdown pass to Rogers in the fourth, and Adoree Jackson return a kickoff for a score, but Utah kept pace as Devontae Booker made amends for a fumble around the one with a 24-yard touchdown run in the third. Even so, it was USC’s game until late.
What Else? Utah QB Travis Wilson completed 18-of-32 passes for 193 yards and a score, and ran 12 times for 27 yards
- USC WR Nelson Agholor caught ten passes for 110 yards
- Utah RB Devontae Booker ran 26 times for 102 yards and a score, and USC RB Javorius Allen ran 27 times for 11 yards
- USC QB Cody Kessler completed 24-of-32 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns with a pick
Game Rating: A-

Oct. 16 Utah 29, at Oregon State 23 2OT
And You Care Because … In the second overtime, Utah came up with the win as Devontae Booker ran for a 19-yard score after Oregon State’s Trevor Romaine missed a field goal attempt. Romine sent it into overtime with a 49-yard field goal as time ran out, and the two teams traded touchdowns with Booker running for a 15-yard score and the Beavers answering with a brilliant two-yard scoring catch from Jordan Villamin on fourth down. A defensive slugfest for most of the game, Utah held a 9-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Beavers connected on a 72-yard touchdown pass to Villamin to go ahead. Booker got the Utes back in front with a 53-yard run setting up a fourth down touchdown run from one-yard out with under four minutes to play, but OSU answered with Romaine’s field goal.
What Else? Utah RB Devontae Booker ran 32 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns
- Oregon State WR Jordan Villamin caught three passes for 83 yards and two scores
- Oregon State PK Trevor Romaine hit field goals from 37, 45 and 49 yards out, but missed for the first time all season long from 37 yards away. Utah’s Andy Phillips was 3-for-3 scoring from 38, 43 and 46 yards out.
- Utah DE Nate Orchard made five tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. LB Gionni Paul led all tacklers with 14 stops with an pick
Game Rating: A

Oct. 4 Utah 30, at UCLA 28
And You Care Because … Utah’s Andy Phillips nailed a 39-yard field goal with 34 seconds to play for the win after UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a last-second field goal from 50 yards away. Down 24-14, the Bruins finally exploded with a 93-yard Devin Fuller touchdown catch, and took the lead on the extra point after a 40-yard Eldridge Massington touchdown catch, but the Utes cranked out a drive over four minutes leading to the winning field goal. The Utes jumped out to a 14-0 lead on a Tevin Carter interception return for a score and a 42-yard Dres Anderson touchdown catch, but the offense struggled in the second half, getting one long drive finishing with a Devontae Booker score late in the third. They needed it with UCLA’s offense finally waking up over the final 25 minutes.
What Else? Utah RB Devontae Booker ran 33 times for 156 yards and a score, and caught three passes for 15 yards
- UCLA QB Brett Hundley completed 16-of-21 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
- Utah QB Kendal Thompson completed 10-of-13 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown, and Travis Wilson completed 2-of-5 passes for five yards
- Total yards: UCLA 406 – Utah 342
Game Rating: A-

Sept. 27 Washington State 28, at Utah 27
And You Care Because … Down 21-0 in the first quarter and 24-7 in the second half, Washington State fought through the rain and the Utah D to get four touchdown passes from Connor Halliday including two to Dom Williams from 35 and 20 yards out and two more strikes to Vince Mayle from 11 and 81 yards out, with the latter coming with just under five minutes to play. The Cougar defense held on as Utah managed just two Andy Phillips field goals after the first quarter. Devontae Booker ran for a 76-yard touchdown, Eric Rowe took a Halliday interception 11 yards for a score, and Kaelin Clay returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown, but the Utah offense couldn’t keep up.
What Else? Washington State QB Connor Halliday completed 39-of-61 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns with two picks
- Utah RB Devontae Booker ran 24 times for 178 yards and a touchdown
- Washington State WR Ricer Cracraft caught nine passes for 126 yards and Vince Mayle caught eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns
- Utah QB Travis Wilson completed 18-of-38 passes for 165 yards
Game Rating: B

Sept. 20 Utah 26, at Michigan 10
And You Care Because … A two-hour lightning delay only delayed the inevitable for Michigan and coach Brady Hoke, who fell to visiting Utah. The Utes took a lead on an Andy Phillips field goal that it would never relinquish. They scored the game’s final 16 points, nine off the right foot of Phillips, who capped the scoring with a 50-yarder just before weather conditions sent the teams back into the locker rooms.
What Else? Utah QB Travis Wilson overcame a nasty fall on his head, a year after his career was almost derailed by a head injury, to finish with 197 total yards and a touchdown pass to Dres Anderson.
- The quarterback situation in Ann Arbor is a mess. Devin Gardner and Shane Morris went 18-of-39 combined for 190 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
- The Utes survived today, but they’ll need to be more efficient on offense to keep thriving in the Pac-12. They were just 6-of-17 on third downs, while attempting a few too many field goals.
- For the second time in the last three games, Michigan failed to produce an offensive touchdown. Hoke is facing intense pressure, but so is offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Game Rating: C

Sept. 6 at Utah 59, Fresno State 27
And You Care Because … Utah blew out to a 24-0 first half lead on three of Travis Wilson’s five touchdown passes on the day. He only completed 11-of-20 passes for 181 yards, but he made them count. Kenneth Scott scores from seven and 36 yards out, while Dres Anderson came up with a 38-yard touchdown and a five-yard score – the Utes were never threatened. Greg Watson scored twice for Fresno State in the fourth from 42 and four yards out. Utah committed 12 penalties for 118 yards.
Game Rating: D

Aug. 28 at Utah 56, Idaho State 14
And You Care Because … Utah rolled at will breaking a 7-7 tie with 35 straight points to pull away. Travis Wilson threw a touchdown pass and ran for another but the special teams starred with a punt return for a score from Kaelin Clay to go along with a kickoff return for a touchdown.
What Else? Travis Wilson was efficient and effective, completing 13-of-18 passes for 265 yards and a score and running for a touchdown. He didn’t have to take any chances.
- This was a perfect tune-up game in several ways, at least offensively. The special teams were fantastic – Kaelin Clay was the star of the show with his two returns – the O line worked and the passing attack was solid.
- Oh yeah, the run defense. DE Nate Orchard had a nice game with a team-high eight tackles with 2.5 sacks, but the run D gave up 133 yards to Xavier Finney, who averaged close to six yards per pop. Idaho State didn’t threaten after the first quarter, but they could run a bit.
Game Rating: D

2014 Utah Preview   

Maybe life in the Mountain West wasn’t so bad after all.

Yeah, Utah is richer and better publicized as a member of the Pac-12, but the program is certainly not as competitive as it was back in the day when the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico were perennial foes. Over the past two seasons, the program that had gained national notoriety as a small-conference BCS buster has only won eight times against FBS teams.

Kyle Whittingham can certainly coach at a high level, something he’s proven over the long haul. But, consistently winning in one of college football’s deepest leagues has turned out to be even more challenging than he expected when the step up in weight class occurred in 2011.

The Utes don’t have a defensive problem. Rarely can their problems be traced to the D. Whittingham and coordinator Kalani Sitake have had a knack for attracting immovable objects on the interior of the line and overachieving playmakers in the back seven. And this season ought to be no different, thanks to a swath of productive veterans, such as DE Nate Orchard, safeties Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen and linebackers Jason Whittingham, Jared Norris and Jacoby Hale, who’s a question mark after tearing his ACL in the spring. Oh, but that skittish offense has been a nagging problem in Salt Lake City for years.

As hard as it is to compute, Utah is up to its seventh offensive coordinator in the last seven years. Former assistant Brian Johnson is with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, and Dennis Erickson has been reassigned as the running backs coach. You’re in the on-deck circle, Dave Christensen. Christensen, prior to a failed five-year stint as the Wyoming head coach, was considered a top offensive mind. He was also a pioneer of the spread, gaining national recognition while orchestrating Gary Pinkel’s high-powered Mizzou offenses. He inherits a unit that ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12, and still isn’t certain that QB Travis Wilson will be medically cleared in July to continue his career.

Utah is entering its fourth year as a member of the Pac-12, still saddled with doubt and uncertainty regarding its place in a much tougher conference. The Utes have finished 5-7 in back-to-back years. A third losing season in a row is going to push the once-untouchable Whittingham to the unfamiliar position of fighting for his job in 2015.

What to watch for on offense: A faster tempo. Yeah, yeah, they’ve heard it all before in Salt Lake City, but the mantra will be the same under Dave Christensen as it was under the past few coordinators. The Utes want to hasten the pace, get out of the huddle quickly and win the battle of attrition in the second-half of games. The new system won’t be dramatically different than the last one, save for some new plays and new wrinkles from the inventive mind of Christensen. The return to health of senior WR Kenneth Scott promises to be a huge benefit to both WR Dres Anderson and whoever gets the ball at quarterback.

What to watch for on defense: Who are the new defensive tackles? The program never seems to have much problem on the inside, though both of last year’s starters, all-star Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu, have graduated. The promising news is a number of veterans were in the rotation in 2013, headed by Sese Ianu, who could be next in line to be selected in the NFL Draft. The staff is also excited by the potential of sophomore Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, who’s shown glimpses of becoming a Star Lotulelei-type anchor up front.

The team will be far better if… it dramatically reduces its number of turnovers, especially through the air. The Utes were picked off 21 times, which was more than all but four FBS colleges in 2013. They’ve already got little margin for error, having played in seven games decided by a touchdown or less last year. Had the offense not killed so many drives with errant throws and poor decisions, Utah could have easily finished the regular season 7-5 rather than 5-7.

The Schedule: There’s a nice mix of good tests, big game moments and easy layups, starting out with an exhibition with Idaho State to kick off a run of three home games in the first four. The problem is the road game – at Michigan – but that’s a good chance to make a huge national splash. The Pac-12 season starts out against Washington State, and that quickly becomes a must-win with three road games in the next four going to UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona State wrapped around a home date with USC. Getting Oregon and Stanford – playing the Cardinal on the road – from the North is a horrible break, but things ease up a wee bit late hosting Arizona before finishing up at Colorado.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Dres Anderson. Utah lacks explosiveness on offense. Besides Anderson, that is. The two-year starter is the Utes’ homerun hitter, the one player in Salt Lake City who can be counted on to ignite the offense when it becomes stale. Anderson operates with game-changing speed, as evidenced by last season’s gaudy average of almost 19 yards per reception. Although new coordinator Dave Christensen won’t bring a mad bomber’s mentality to the campus, the mere threat of Anderson’s wheels is enough to help the other 10 Utes on offense.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Nate Orchard. Orchard is prepared to pick up where teammate Trevor Reilly left off in 2013, terrorizing Pac-12 quarterbacks off the edge. Orchard is the Utes’ best pass rusher, as well as one of the defense’s emotional leaders. He’ll be chasing down more than just passers in 2014, now that NFL scouts have taken notice of his vast potential. If Orchard plays at full-strength for an entire season, he’s capable of blowing up into one of the league’s breakout defensive stars.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Travis Wilson (or Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson). Whoever is running Christensen’s offense will need to do so with more efficiency that the program has had lately. Wilson is the best choice, because he’s a returning starter, with a ton of untapped potential. But he’s also a question mark, the result of an intracranial artery injury that went undiagnosed until last tear. As insurance, the Utes have landed Thompson, a former Sooner who’ll be available immediately. The staff won’t truly know what it has behind center until the summer.

The season will be a success if ... the Utes find the pathway back to the postseason. It’s bowl or bust for Utah, which has slipped behind the rest of the Pac-12 over the past two seasons. And reaching goals will not be easy for this team. After opening with Idaho State, the Utes get no breaks in the Pac-12. Fresno State and Michigan comprise the rest of the non-conference schedule, and UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford will be faced outside of Rice-Eccles Stadium. Somehow, some way, Utah must rise above the five-win mark for the first time since 2011.

Key game: Oct. 25 vs. USC. Rice-Eccles Stadium can be a landmine for visiting teams. Just ask Stanford, which had its dreams of a perfect season dashed last Oct. 12 in Salt Lake City. Utah is capable of delivering another high-profile upset when the Trojans visit this fall. And the Utes will need a surprise or two to qualify for a 2014 bowl game. As a side note, this space is usually reserved for BYU, but the Holy War won’t be played for the first time since World War II, an unfortunate casualty of realignment.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Interceptions thrown: Utah 21 – Opponents 3
- Sacks: Utah 39 – Opponents 23
- Net punting average: Utah 40.2 - Opponents 33.5

- 2014 Utah Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

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