After two cancelled games Utah finally got a chance to hit a team wearing a different uniform. Unfortunately for the Utes, they came up short, losing to USC 33-17. Utah, especially under Kyle Whittingham, is the type of team that in late November would be hitting their stride. Instead, they are just getting their season underway and looked understandably rusty against USC last week.
QB Troubles Early
Utah had two transfer QBs hoping to separate themselves in the off season - Cameron Rising from Texas and the experienced multi-year starter Jake Bentley from the University of South Carolina. Rising won the starting job but was injured early in the USC game and is likely lost for the year. In came Jake Bentley who struggled, going 16/28 for just 171 yards and 1 TD, with two interceptions. He’s 6-4 with a big arm and a bevy of experienced receivers and tight ends, but struggled getting into a rhythm against the Trojans. In his defense, he didn’t receive much help up front and had a rusher in his face a lot of the evening. In fact, two of Utah’s four highest graded (per PFF) pass blockers were a TE and a RB, so that should tell you the state of their offensive line last week.
Looking at his overall career at the other USC, he’s a fairly average athlete and not much of a threat with his legs (except his 33 yard scramble vs the Trojans, which I don’t expect to happen every game), but he has a good pocket presence. His two interceptions last week are fairly indicative of his overall career, where in two seasons he threw 23 interceptions with only 43 touchdowns to balance it out. But he will stand tall in the pocket delivering in the face of a rush, and generally throws a catchable ball with good-not-great accuracy. Do it all wide receiver Britain Covey - who is somehow still on a college roster - was rumored to being getting some snaps at QB for the UCLA game, which was ultimately cancelled. He didn’t play against USC, apparently suffering a minor injury in warmups.
Speaking of the skill talent out wide for the Utes...
Experienced on the Outside
Britain Covey is a name most Husky and Pac-12 fans should know. The 5-8 versatile threat can and will get the ball in just about every way possible for the Utes.
After Covey, Utah has a bunch of names that fans should recognize: Bryan Thompson, Solomon Enis, Samson Nacua (older brother of Puka), Jaylen Dixon, and Brant Kuithe at tight end. Kuithe is up there with Cade Otton as one of the best in the conference, and was so successful that he turned 72% of his catches into first downs last season. He’s very good at finding space though is on the smaller side at 6-2.
Bryan Thompson is arguably the most skilled (48 yards against USC) and has the best hands of the receivers but has struggled to stay healthy during his career. Nacua and Enis have shown flashes over the years and have the size at around 6-3, but have struggled with consistency, and can vanish from the offense. If they put in consistent performances, Utah can have a dangerous trio. Finally there is Jaylen Dixon, who didn’t record a catch last week but is a quick play making option in the slot. Combined with Covey that is a tough to defend duo. Against the Trojans, Bentley spread the ball around with five players getting at least 2 receptions, but Covey (if available) and Kuithe will likely be Bentley’s first options against the Huskies.
On the Ground and Final Thoughts
Utah usually likes to run their offense through their running backs, but they struggled last week piling up just 111 yards and no touchdowns. Shifty true freshman Ty Jordan and sophomore Jordan Wilmore split 17 carries between them and managed just 62 yards - it was a slog all night with the offensive line having trouble opening up space. Wilmore will continue to get most of the carries and is a sturdy, tough runner with good patience and burst. He’s a typical Utah RB. The coaches did start three freshman along the line and they were the position group rumored to be hit with COVID earlier in the month, severely limiting practice time and reps.
Utah’s best area for success against USC was front and center, within 10 yards of the LOS. Bentley found Kuithe and running back Devin Brumfield there with the most consistency - 10/14 for 63 yards. After that it was a mixed bag. Most worryingly for Utah was the 5 turnovers - three interceptions and two fumbles. Utah is a team that typically improves a lot as the season progresses and I expect they will be sharper this week even against a fast and physical UW defense. OC Andy Ludwig is an adaptable play caller who is all about tailoring his offense to the players he has. With the experience outside, a great TE, and struggling offensive line, I would expect a lot of quick throws and misdirection, with Britain Covey getting the ball in as many inventive ways as possible. It sounds like the run game will take a bit of a back seat this year with the Utes willing to air it out more than usual - see 34 pass attempts to 28 rushes last week. Go Dawgs.
How many points will Utah score against Washington?
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32 or more