Bleeding Red: Good win for Utes, but problems need attention

7-Up, or 7 down
Depends on which side of the rivalry you’re on
Great big smile or sad small frown
Yet another Holy War has come and now gone

COMMENTARY – 7-Up for everyone and just put it on my tab!

utesUtah has now beaten BYU seven times in a row, eight of the last nine, and twelve of the last fifteen times these teams have met. Kyle Whittingham is well on his way to flipping the rivalry decisively in favor of the Utes, ironically in the same manner his college coach, LaVell Edwards, flipped the rivalry in favor of the Cougars. The overall record now favors Utah 60-34-4.

The bad news is that the Utes did not play very well against the Cougars, committing 11 penalties for 97 yards, struggling to score in the red zone, and winning by a mere six points while dominating virtually every statistical category other than the score. The good news is that Utah beat BYU in Provo. Sometimes you just have to take the win and move on.

But before we move on, what have we learned about the Utes in their first two games? Like Clint Eastwood’s classic Western (cue the drum and flute), Utah is good, bad, and ugly.

First, the good

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley throws a pass against BYU during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Tyler Huntley is very talented and athletic. Huntley is currently the Utes leading rusher, averaging 79.5 yards per game and 4.3 yards per attempt. Running back Zack Moss is a close second, averaging 74.5 yards per game and 4.5 yards per attempt. Huntley has also scored three of Utah’s four rushing touchdowns (with Moss scoring the other one).

The passing game shows signs of promise in balancing out the offensive attack. Last season, the Utes averaged 216.7 yards per game through the air, accounting for approximately 41 percent of Utah’s plays from scrimmage. In the first two games this year, the Utes are averaging 270.5 passing yards per game, accounting for approximately 45 percent of Utah’s plays from scrimmage.

Senior transfer Darren Carrington II is a big factor in the Utes pass attack. He has 127 and 129 yards receiving in the two games he has played in a Utah uniform. Notably, he only had seven total 100-plus yard games while playing in Oregon’s prolific offense before making his way to The Hill.

Carrington is not alone in the receiving corps, with seven different Utes catching multiple passes, and two more players chipping in a catch apiece.

Utah’s defense is once again the indisputable strength of the team, holding opponents to an average of 237.5 yards of total offense per game. Would you believe that North Dakota had 242 yards in total offense while BYU only had 233? It’s true. The crimson line is also averaging three sacks per game, with two interceptions per game, allowing only 3.9 yards per play, and holding opponents to 14.5 points per game. They are almost boringly consistent, but I’ll take it any day!

Punter Mitch Wishnowsky is looking good to repeat as the Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s best punter. Averaging 51.0 yards per punt, with an average return of 3.2 yards, he can flip the field in an instant. Wishnowsky also has a real knack for pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line. Few people realize what a weapon a talented punter can be in a game of inches, and Utah has consistently gotten stellar production from its punters in recent years (winning the Ray Guy Award a stunning three years in a row).

While “Automatic” Andy Phillips may have graduated, walk-on Matt Gay has come out of nowhere to secure the starting job at placekicker. So far, he is a perfect 7 for 7 on field goals (with a long of 49) and 5-5 in PATs.

Next, the bad

Huntley simply cannot continue to be the Utes leading rusher. Either he is going to get injured and knocked out of the game, or the offense simply will not be as effective as it can be. Without a multi-dimensional attack, Utah will struggle to win in Pac-12 play.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham before Saturday’s game (AP Photo)

“He’s going to be a big part of our run game every week, but we need to supplement some of that with running backs,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We probably leaned too heavily on Tyler running the ball last week.”

Huntley is also experiencing the inevitable growing pains of a young quarterback, and has given the ball to the other team both through the air and on the ground. His decision-making is looking better, but he still needs to improve (especially in recognizing options to advance the ball other than him running it himself).

While the Utes have scored 12 times in 14 trips inside the red zone (for an 86% scoring average), only five of those scores have been touchdowns and the other seven times Utah had to settle for field goals. The Utes are not going to beat too many Pac-12 teams by scoring field goals. Currently, eight teams in the Pac-12 are averaging 34 points or more per game, five of them are averaging 43 points or more, and two of them are averaging more than 50 points. While those numbers will level off somewhat in Pac-12 play, teams are still going to score. Utah’s defense may be good, but not that good. The offense simply has to step up its scoring, especially inside the red zone.

And finally, the ugly

Kyle Whittingham’s Utes have beaten BYU seven straight times.

A friend pointed out to me that if you put Whittingham in the uniform of a 5-star general, he could easily pull it off. He is a no-nonsense guy, whose teams are typically well-coached and disciplined. While some rust and lack of discipline in the opening game is to be expected, there should be a big improvement between games one and two. That didn’t happen this season.

In the first two games, the Utes are averaging 11 penalties per game for 116 penalty yards per game. It is tough enough trying to beat your opponent, but when you start beating yourself it becomes even more difficult to win.

“I think we improved overall as a football team from Weeks 1 to 2, but we still have a long ways to go,” Whittingham said. “Some of the same problems surfaced again in Week 2, like too many penalties, and things like that.”

The targeting penalty when senior linebacker Sunia Tauteoli led with the crown of his helmet into a sliding Tanner Mangum was simply inexcusable, and atypical of a Whittingham-coached team.

Next up

Before it begins Pac-12 play, Utah has one more tune-up game against 1-2 San Jose State on The Hill this Saturday, with an 8 p.m. kickoff.

Here’s hoping the Utes continue to win, and correct many of the problems that have plagued them the first two games.

Bleeding Red is sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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