Utah Utes football report card: A masterful first half undercut by a disastrous second half

Utah gave up a 21-0 halftime lead Saturday night as Washington the game’s final 24 points, sending Utah to 0-2 — their worst start since 2007.

Here are the grades from the Utes’ road loss to the Huskies:

Offense

It started out so well for Jake Bentley and Utah’s offense.

The Utes raced out to a 21-0 lead by halftime and were clicking on every facet of offense, starting up front. The offensive line was opening up holes for the running backs and pass protecting fairly well. It was a significant improvement from the USC game, when the run game couldn’t get going and pressure was getting to Bentley, who ended up with three sacks and three interceptions. In the first half against Washington, the offensive line mostly lived up to its touted potential in the offseason, as Utah racked up 221 yards of total offense in the first half.

Bentley looked pretty good in his second game as a Ute. Through one half, he was 9-for-11 with 87 yards passing and one passing touchdown. He also showed off his rushing skills, rushing for 46 yards and a score. Bryan Thompson was impressive, with a one-handed catch and a touchdown. He had 65 receiving yards at halftime. The run game was also much improved, helped by the offensive line. Freshman Ty Jordan was fantastic, rushing for 60 yards, including a 46-yard run. Devin Brumfield added a touchdown. Basically the only miscue of the half was when Bentley fumbled on a sack.

Utah’s offense was in complete control of the game at halftime and looking like they were going to continue that in the second half. Then, disaster stuck.

The first Ute drive in the third quarter ended with a Bentley interception. Subsequent drives fared no better — turnover on downs, fumble, punt, punt, interception, ballgame.

Incredibly, Bentley did not have a single completed pass to a wide receiver in the second half. The only players with receptions in the second half were running backs Jordan and Brumfield and tight end Brant Kuithe. Britain Covey was not targeted once, according to the final stats.

The pass protection wasn’t as good as it was in the first half, allowing a total of three sacks, and didn’t give Bentley enough time. Bentley simply made some bad decisions that ended in two interceptions and was not able to make winning plays.

The turning point happened when Jordan fumbled in the red zone with Utah up 21-17. Utah’s best offensive drive of the night was gone in an instant and the Utes weren’t able to put the ball in the end zone.

All in all, the Utes’ offense showed improvement in both the run game and the pass game, but the second half implosion proved to be too much.

Utah ended up with four turnovers, three in the second half, which doomed the offense for a second straight week. The Utes have failed to score a point in the second half of two consecutive games, and until Utah fixes its second-half inefficiencies, it will be hard for the Utes to pick up their first win.

Grade: C-

Defense

Just like the offense, Utah’s defense dominated in the first half and could have been better in the second half.

In the first half, Utah’s defense looked like the typical defense we’ve come to expect from a Kyle Whittingham-coached team — tough, physical, and dominant. The Utes held the Huskies to just 127 yards of total offense in the first half and made life miserable for Washington quarterback Dylan Morris, who was 10-for-18 for 77 yards and threw two interceptions. The defense was great on third downs as the Huskies went 0-for-6. Utah was imposing its will.

In the second half, things fell apart.

To be certain, the defense got no help from the offense, but it did allow 24 unanswered points. Washington scored on four of its six offensive drives, with three of those scores being touchdowns. The last drive was the dagger, a methodical 12-play, 88-yard drive that picked apart Utah’s defense. Twice the Utes forced Washington into third downs, only for Morris to calmly complete a pass for a first down. Morris completed four straight passes, including a 16-yard touchdown that put Washington ahead for good with 36 seconds left. The Huskies’ offense was just too much for the Utes’ defense at the end.

Utah’s run defense was impressive. The Utes held the Huskies to just 88 yards of rushing — Washington came in averaging 250 yards of offense on the ground. The difference in the game came in the pass defense. Utah’s defensive line wasn’t able to get to Morris as effectively in the second half, something illustrated on the Huskies’ game-winning drive. Utah’s secondary was decent, picking off Morris three times — two in the second half. Zemaiah Vaughn, Faybian Marks and Vonte Davis all had interceptions, but Utah’s secondary was unable to come up with the gave-saving play on the final drive and had trouble containing tight end Cade Otton, who finished with 108 yards and two touchdowns.

Grade: C+

Special Teams

Special teams didn’t get much action on Saturday. There were no field-goal attempts, but Jadon Redding did make all three extra points. Ben Lennon improved with an average of 40 yards per punt — all within the 20-yard line. Britain Covey had just one punt return for four yards and the Utes had no kick returns.

All in all, a fairly good outing for special teams, but no chances for game-changing plays.

Grade: B+

Overall

Utah put on its best Jekyll and Hyde performance on Saturday night. If Utah played like they did during the first half for the whole game, it would have been a blowout win. If they played the way they did in the second half for the whole game, they wouldn’t have been close. Average it out and you get a close loss. Just one touchdown from the offense in the second half probably would have netted a Utah victory.

As it stands now, the Utes are 0-2 with two games left. They will not three-peat as Pac-12 South Division champs and will not play in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah has to win their next two games, against Oregon State and Colorado, to even qualify for a Pac-12 bowl game.

Utah did show signs of improvement Saturday night, it just wasn’t enough improvement for a win against an undefeated Washington team. The run game looks promising going forward. The offensive line, defensive line and secondary took steps forward as well compared to last week. The next two games will be valuable for the Utes as the young players gain more experience and the team continues to mesh. In theory, the whole team could come back next year, and this four-game season will pay off down the line, even if it’s not paying off in wins in the short term right now.

Utah’s rush defense is already good, and the secondary and pass rush, though it needs to be better overall, seems to be taking some steps forward. Utah’s running game looks promising. The big question mark right now is the throw game. Bentley has to improve as a quarterback, starting next week, and Utah’s offensive line needs to be as good at protecting him as they are blocking for the run.

Grade: C

Latest posts