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Grading the Game: Utah Utes

Half good, half bad.

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback - B

Dylan Morris was bound to face some adversity this season and it came at him against Utah. In the first half, he was 10/18 for 77 yards, with two interceptions. One was a bad throw to make under pressure and the other was a Hail Mary at the end of the half, so it didn’t matter much. It’s hard to know for sure but he appeared to audible into a lot of run plays on second down, opting for the safe choice instead of passing downfield, which led to a lot of 3rd and long situations. In the second half, things changed dramatically. He had another pick on a badly under thrown ball to Ty Jones - that could have been the game - but threw his first two touchdowns of the game and a 38 yarder to Terrell Bynum to open the third quarter put the Huskies on the goal line, where they eventually scored. He was magnificent on the game winning drive, converting multiple third downs, scrambling while keeping his eyes downfield, and even corralling a bad snap on the final drive which he turned into a 7 yard gain to Cade Otton. He kept his composure and didn’t take a sack all game.

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Running Backs - C

Rough night for the run game overall, though not necessarily the fault of the backs themselves, as they were running into a loaded Utah box nearly every play. Sean McGrew had a nice 26 yard burst in the first half but gained just 10 yards on his other six carries. The coaches kept the rotation pretty tight with only Kamari Pleasant getting significant time (Cam Davis had two carries that netted 1 yard and Richard Newton didn’t get in the game). Pleasant didn’t find much success either but did catch 4 passes for 33 yards, including his 11 yarder on the final drive to put the Huskies within striking distance. He showed off a nice spin move and got out of bounds to stop the block. While I still think Cam Davis should see the ball more, there is no doubt Pleasant has elevated the level of his game in his final year.

Wide Receivers - B

Another position where the rotation was kept pretty tight, with Puka Nacua, Ty Jones, and Terrell Bynum getting nearly all the reps. Rome Odunze was on the field for a play or two but wasn’t targeted, and I don’t think Jalen McMillan left the sideline. Puka Nacua was the standout, however. In the past he had shown flashes in limited opportunities of being a big play threat but this felt like the first game he showed he could be a reliable, consistent, and go-to option. He came through when it mattered most, with consecutive big catches in the final drive netting 29 yards. He also had a catch to convert a 4th down in the first half. Terrell Bynum had the one big catch in the opening drive of the second half where UW scored, and continues to be effective on the jet sweeps, averaging 12 yards on both this attempts.

Tight Ends - A

It was great to see Devin Culp out there after missing the first two games, but the story here is obviously Cade Otton who had another 100 yard receiving game, making it two in row for the junior from Tumwater. Both of his touchdowns showed off his knack for finding open space and his incredible hands. The connection he is developing with Morris is really exciting - he’s been reliable in the short and intermediate routes up the seam, and is catching touchdowns. When he’s not doing that he’s putting defenders on their butts with his blocking. He’s an exceptional player and another one to add to the ever growing list of great tight ends on Montlake.

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line - B+

Despite the bad day running the ball, this offensive line is still playing clean football. They only allowed one TFL and Morris wasn’t sacked once. They also aren’t putting the offense in bad spots with penalties or missed assignments. In fact, on the 3rd-and-10 play to Nacua on the final drive, Utah sent six rushers and line (plus Kamari Pleasant) picked up it beautifully, giving Morris a stable pocket to get the ball out. They can definitely get better, but they have all the building blocks required for a dominant starting five. As I’ve alluded to previously, I think some of the running game issues are more scheme related, not to mention Utah has a great defense and it’s never easy running on them. This offensive line feels very close to being something special.

Defensive Line - C+

Things get a bit more complicated here as the Huskies surrendered 215 yards and 5.1 YPC to the Utes. Take out Ty Jordan’s 46 yard scamper on Utah’s second scoring drive and the numbers look better, but they still gave up the explosive run. Taki Taimani is playing solid football upfront, considering he was probably going to be fourth in the DT rotation to start the year (Levi, Tuli, Bronson, then Taimani). Speaking of Tuli, it looks like he is making his way back from injury and got into the game for a handful of snaps, including playing a key role on stuffing Utah’s 4th down attempt. Josiah Bronson was moving around filling in for Ryan Bowman but seemed to struggle on the edge. Faatui Tuitele played the most he has all season and flashed his athleticism and strength on a couple plays, shooting into the backfield. Hopefully with Tuli returning to full health this unit will improve dramatically - they are far from bad, but not quite at the standard we’ve seen in past years.

Inside Linebackers - C+

Ulofoshio and Sirmon manned the middle all game and were the teams leading tacklers. Sirmon looks more comfortable out there but had Utah Jake Bentley dead to rights in the backfield at least twice and missed the tackle both times. Ulofoshio was in the middle of everything as usual, but still had trouble containing Utah’s rush, especially in the first half. Of course, after I wrote about the not particularly athletic Jake Bentley in my Utah offense preview, the most success he would find against the Husky defense was with his legs. He kept drives alive with his scrambling in the first half and it took the Huskies a while to figure it out.

Outside Linebackers - A

There isn’t much more to say about Zion Tupuola-Fetui who is simply playing on another level right now. He had three (!!!) more sacks on Saturday night and probably deserved a fourth when he close-lined Jake Bentley and was called for roughing. He had numerous other QB pressures, and showed soft hands scooping up Kyler Gordon’s forced fumble. A lot of would simply fall on the fall, or mis handle it but he took the gamble to try and scoop it up and it worked. He has incredible strength and his speed-to-power (basically a more refined bull rush) move is borderline unstoppable right now. With Ryan Bowman out, Sav’ell Smalls got a lot of time and shows some flashes but isn’t quite there yet. It feels like a matter a time before he has his breakout game.

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary - A-

They had a few bad plays but overall continued to play at a high level as they have all season. Jake Bentley was 16/23 but only had 144 yards in the air plus the two interceptions. Kyler Gordon possibly had the play of the game with his forced fumble on freshman Ty Jordan, who had been hurting the Huskies previously. Washington ended up punting on that possession but kept Utah from scoring and flipped the field. Trent McDuffie has barely been targeted all season and keeps locking down his side of the field. Elijah Molden is playing excellent football too, covering like a corner but playing with the force of a linebacker. Utah WR Bryan Thompson beat Alex Cook on his touchdown and had a huge catch early but the secondary kept the lid on Utah’s pass game for most of the night. The strength of the team yet again is the DB group.

Coaching - B-

Credit to the coaches for keeping the energy up and keeping the team focused on a win. Lack of energy and passion was a definite criticism of the later years of the Chris Petersen era and Jimmy Lake seems to have turned that around (not putting them on the same level - Lake still has plenty to prove). As I’ve written about before, I like that there seems to be a real identity being built on offense and the coaches doing their best to stick to it. But it’s been pretty stubborn at times and has nearly cost the Huskies games - it’s not unfathomable that the Huskies could be 1-2 right now. With this offensive line and stable of running backs I have to think they can get more out of them, even against a stout defense like Utah. Washington’s average on their second down plays was 7.75 yards to go, and only converted 4 of 13 third downs. One clearly impacts the other and the second down play calling - or possibly audibles from Morris - needs to be looked at. But credit where credit is due: the Huskies were getting their butts kicked in the first half, but turned it all around with a 24-0 run to end the game with a W. They are now 3-0 and will hopefully play someone this weekend.