It's time for the Utah offense to hit the reset button. Oregon State was a disaster on the offensive front, and in many ways, the Utes will need to regroup and start over to find success over the next few weeks.
What was supposed to be a resounding strength of the 2007 season has turned into a giant question mark with an anemic performance at Oregon State and injuries to key contributors Brian Johnson and Matt Asiata. The Utes limped out of Corvallis with only seven points, 12 first downs, 18 rushing yards and 196 total yards to show for their efforts. That kind of offensive production won't win many football games.
Luckily for Utah, it's early enough in the season that they can adjust and start off the conference season on a winning note. Air Force may be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Utes. Although the Air Force defense performed well in their season opener against Division I-AA competition, the Falcons' team speed and size pale in comparison to the Oregon State defense.
Saturday will reveal a lot about what this team can accomplish without Brian Johnson at the helm, and this game could make or break this young season. Without further ado, here are the keys for Saturday's game if the Utes are going to pull off a win:
Tommy Grady Must Make Plays
Tommy Grady undoubtedly has the physical tools to be a terrific quarterback. Unfortunately, during his time at Utah, the senior quarterback has been unable to elevate his play in real game situations. Now there is no doubt that the offense is his, and he must step up for Utah to have any hope of success.
Control the Line of Scrimmage
The Utah run game was non existent against Oregon State, and it could once again be the Utes' Achilles heel all season long. Against Air Force, Utah must control the line of scrimmage and open up holes for the backs to move through. If they can't get the job done against what should be an overmatched team in Air Force, then points will come few and far between.
Get Casteel the Ball
Brent Casteel was the lone bright spot on the Utah offense against the Beavers and will be the key player against Air Force. If Grady can find a way to get Casteel the ball in space, the rest of the offense should open up and Utah could have a big day offensively.
Avoid stupid penalties
The celebration penalty by Marquis Wilson and Brent Casteel against Oregon St was harmless upon first glance. However, once you consider that penalty was a game changing momentum swing, which afforded the Beaver offense a chance to turn the field around, it ranks up there as one of the most boneheaded penalties ever committed by the Utes.
Up to this point in Wilson's career he has been all hype and no substance. Wilson is immature, has bad hands and until he proves he is mature enough to "shut up and play the game" he will be a liability on offense. The entire Ute offense showed an utter lack of discipline and execution against Oregon St, and while it's possible it may have been first opening game nerves (unlikely), it's also possible it may represent something far more serious and disturbing: coaching. For now, the jury is still out.
If there was a bright spot for the Utes against Oregon St last week, it was the overall play of Utah's secondary, headlined by newcomer Sean Smith. Smith's two interceptions and multiple pass breakups gave Ute fans a taste of what they can expect from him in the future. The one area where Utah's secondary under-performed was in tackling. With too many missed tackles, the Utes look weak against a strong run game and will need to make adjustments to become effective against it. Brice McCain will need to learn how to get more physical with receivers and start wrapping up better.
Man the line
On the defensive line, the good news is that Paul Kruger and Martail Burnett appear to be all that they were hyped up to be in the preseason. With two defensive ends that can provide a pass rush, the Ute defense should fair well against a revamped Falcon offense that is sure to feature more passing attack.
At tackle, Gabe Long appears to be worthy of the hype with his speed and technique. The defensive line play as a unit has some work to do however but getting reps for the younger guys like Neli Aasa and Lei Talamaivao will only pay dividends for the future.
Linebackers source of strength
The play of the linebackers was highlighted by Joe Jiannoni, Kyle Brady and Stevenson Sylvester. The linebackers will once again be a source of strength for the Utes as they face Air Force.
At this point, even though it's extremely early in the season, there are lots of question marks now for a Ute team that in the preseason looked like it could knock of a mediocre PAC-10 Oregon St team. Look for significant improvement in the running game, but it won't be enough if Grady can't move the ball. Utah needs to score at least 24 points for a win. Time will tell if they are capable.