Bleeding Red: Defense, special teams made trip to Big House a splashing success

Utah beat Michigan in The Big House
Which was so quiet you could hear a mouse
Three wins in the bag with three more to go
This year Utah will be back in a bowl

COMMENTARY — Utah has finished up its non-conference schedule and is sitting at 3-0. Yup, that’s right, the team down south isn’t the only undefeated team in the state.

The Utes are halfway to being bowl eligible, and at this point it is going to take a colossal collapse on their part to come up short of the six wins needed to be bowl eligible (meaning Utah would have to lose 7 of its remaining 9 games). I’m betting there are at least three wins left on the Utes’ schedule.

Please don’t misunderstand my optimism — Utah has an incredibly hard conference schedule. The Utes will play five teams currently ranked in the Top 20 nationally, including No. 2 Oregon. Even I don’t believe Utah will come even close to winning out. But the Utes are going to turn some heads this year and finally prove that they belong in the Pac-12.

Early in the Michigan game, Brian Blechen made one of the best tackles I have seen recently at any level of football. Michigan’s star receiver, Devin Funchess, had what looked to be a sure catch coming across the middle. However, Blechen made a textbook tackle leading with his shoulder to the mid-section of Funchess, laying him out on the turf and dislodging the football in the process. Football is most definitely a contact sport, and Blechen excels at making contact with opposing players.

Gionni Paul could not have played better in his debut as a Ute, finishing with 14 tackles (10 of them solo), a fumble recovery, and an interception just for good measure. Paul was a breath of life in a depleted linebacking corps that has suffered a number of injuries lately.

Even Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham conceded that “the defense played exceptionally well,” and “special teams were very good,”

One of the most incredible aspects of Utah’s play last Saturday was special teams. Kaelin Clay returned a punt for the first touchdown of the game (and exhibited a very premature Heisman pose in the end zone). On the other side of the ball, Andy Phillips made four field goals, including a 50-yarder. Punter Tom Hackett downed two punts inside the 15 yard line, including one which was downed at the 3, and the Utes lead the nation in net punting. What a luxury to have your kicking game as an extra weapon at your disposal.

utesAt one point during last Saturday’s game, one of the ABC commentators talked about the implications to Michigan if they were to lose “to a team like Utah.” In other words, there are always big expectations for nationally-known teams, based in large part on what they have done in the past, with no respect for relative newcomers like the Utes. Fortunately, regardless of what the talking heads may say, the teams line up against each other week after week to actually play the games (oftentimes proving the talking heads and odds makers wrong). On the field of play, reputation means very little and you have to play to win every single week.

I wish politics were more like sports. When it comes to elections, especially in Utah, it is as if the winners are anointed before the voters ever go to the polls and elections are a mere self-fulfilling prophecy. Unlike sports, the candidates do not have an opportunity to line up against each other on a fair playing field, but rather the system is manipulated by the Republicans and Democrats to limit voters’ access to all of the candidates who will appear on the ballot on November 4.

Case in point — the Utah Debate Commission (which is merely a puppet of the Republicans and Democrats). Starting this week, the Utah Debate Commission will conduct five televised debates among candidates for statewide office. The problem is that of the 23 candidates who will appear on the ballot from whom voters may choose to represent them in office, only 10 of the candidates will be allowed to participate in the debate. It comes as no great surprise that all 10 candidates in the debates are either Republican or Democrat.

It’s time for candidates for public office to actually have to “play the game” against their opponents in a fair election process and let the voters make an informed decision. Just like Utah stunned Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in the 2008-09 season, there are a number of third party candidates on the ballot in Utah who are more than capable of stunning the establishment incumbents if only they were given a fair shot.

wazzuBack to sports. Utah opens up its conference schedule this week, hosting Washington State in an evening game kicking off at 6 p.m. Although the Cougars are only 1-3 on the year, they gave No. 2-ranked Oregon all it could handle last week, losing by a single touchdown, 38-31.

This Saturday should be a great game, with the Ute defense tested by one of the most potent passing attacks in the nation. This could easily turn into a shootout. Fortunately, unlike recent years, Utah has the firepower to compete in a high-scoring game. Here’s hoping the Utes keep rolling to a 4-0 start.

In closing, in light of recent issues with player conduct in both the NFL (most notably, but certainly not limited to, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson) and college (including the suspension of Florida State’s Jameis Winston for last Saturday’s game against Clemson for off-the-field conduct), it is worth noting Utah’s policy on player conduct.

“We have a policy manual, I guess it can’t cover everything, but it’s pretty extensive and lays things out and what our expectations are and what the penalty structure is,” Whittingham said. “There are certain things on which there is no compromise or leeway and we have that spelled out in the policy manual as well.”

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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