Utah's 41-0 win over Northern Colorado on Thursday night was the first chance for Utah fans to see Kyle Whittingham's latest squad. Although the outcome was never in doubt despite a slow start, here are four key lessons that Ute fans can take from the game.
The Defensive Line is as Advertised
The Utah defensive line put on a clinic on Thursday night, leading the charge in one of the Utes' most dominating defensive efforts in recent memory. The defensive line as a unit accounted for four pass breakups, two sacks, and an interception returned for a touchdown, while regularly rotating nine players in and out of the lineup. Star Lotulelei set the tone, and although the senior finished the game with only three tackles (one for a loss), he was consistently overpowering blockers in one-on-one situations and demanding double teams. Nate Fakahafua showed that he may be in for a breakout season, finishing the game with a sack and a pass breakup. Joe Kruger was outstanding as well, scoring the defense's only touchdown and breaking up another pass.
It's unreasonable to expect this type of dominance every week, but if Chad Kauha'aha'a's unit can continue to be this disruptive, life will be very difficult for opposing offenses.
John White Hasn't Changed
Although White only had one long run - a 28 yarder in the third quarter - the talented back showed he is every bit as electrifying as he was last season. White ended the night with 119 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown. Most of his yards came as a result of tough running on the inside. White also consistently made the first tackler miss - many times in the backfield - turning short or negative runs into positive yardage.
A good sign for the Utes was the fact that White's workload was considerably reduced from last season. Jarrell Oliver and Kelvin York both got their first action as Utes, with seven and five carries respectively. Both Oliver and York need to improve upon their ability to gain positive yardage beyond the first point of contact, but they each showed flashes of ability that should complement White's game nicely.
The Offensive Line Still Needs Work
Thursday night's performance by the Utah offensive line was a mixed bag. The most positive sign was the lines' performance in the passing game. They didn't allow a sack, and did a good job of keeping Northern Colorado defenders from laying violent hits on quarterback Jordan Wynn.
The line also played reasonably well in the running game. The Utes did average 4.1 yards per rush and scored three times on the ground, and those numbers would ordinarily be solid against better competition. However, the Utes need to do a better job of getting to the second level in their run blocking and opening up bigger lanes, especially when lining up against a noticeably inferior opponent. Perhaps expectations of dominance were too much given the fact that the line still needs time to gel with Miles Mason and Sam Brenner missing so much of fall camp. The line play was solid, but not dominant, and it will need to continue to improve as the competition level ramps up beginning with Utah State next week.
Jordan Wynn Looked Like Jordan Wynn
Wynn played reasonably well in his first game back in nearly a year. His first quarter interception was clearly underthrown, but by and large, the junior quarterback did a good job of hitting open receivers and moving the chains. The emergence of the tight ends in the passing game was a pleasant surprise, but Wynn will need to be careful to not use them as a crutch while ignoring big play opportunities down field.
One of the most positive aspects to the passing game for the night was the fact that the Utes distributed the ball well to their playmakers, with nine different receivers making catches. The distribution was fairly even between the tight ends and receivers, with the Ute receivers finishing with 10 catches and the tight ends with nine. The Utes will need to stretch the field more in the future, especially with the speed and talent they have at receiver. Dres Anderson's 16 yarder on a crossing pattern was the longest of the night for the group, and Devonte Christopher was largely quiet, just missing the two long passes that came his way.