Takeaways: Utah at USC
For the second time in the last five years, the University of Utah sent a top 10 team into the Coliseum and for the second time in five years, the Utes left defeated and somewhat exposed. This time, however, they still had every opportunity to win, despite their shortcomings. The upcoming week is sure to be a reality check for not just the players, but the coaches as well. Welcome to life as a P5 football program with astronomical expectations. There’s still a lot to play for, despite how the day after is sure to feel for the program and the fans, alike.
Here are the takeaways from the Utes’ 30-23 defeat:
USC receivers left their mark. Did they expose the secondary?
Much was stated about the trio of USC receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown and their impact was felt early and often in the Coliseum on Friday night. The dynamic playmakers made the hyped Utah secondary look like inexperienced freshmen, as each of these receivers scored a touchdown. By the end of the night, Pittman, Vaughns, and St. Brown combined for 19 receptions for 349 yards (18.4 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Their total yardage made up nearly 95% of the USC passing attack and helped third-string junior quarterback Matt Fink remind everyone that he can still play.
Michael Pittman Jr.'s game was one in line of many great wide receivers in USC history, as he hauled in ten receptions for 232 yards, consistently beating double-teams and winning 50-50 balls tossed up by Fink. The statement of the night was the 77-yard bomb in which Pittman out jumped Utah safety Julian Blackmon for the ball and then ran to the end zone untouched. St. Brown and Vaughns picked up most of their yardage underneath, but Pittman regularly embarrassed the Utah secondary as he simply could not be stopped. The USC passing attack is lethal with the Air Raid style, but the question for every Utah fan is if USC outperformed a talented Utes group or if USC exposed an over-hyped Utah defensive secondary.
Don’t send criticism Huntley’s way
In Friday night’s loss, there are many areas of concern and some questionable plays that need critiquing, but senior quarterback Tyler Huntley should not be one of them. Sure, he was not perfect. However, he left everything he had on the field last night. There were many occasions that he scrambled for a first down, saving the drive or a critical throw to keep the defense on their toes. He did not have much time in the pocket on most occasions but, he made something out of nothing as best that he could. He finished the night 22-30 for 210 yards as well as 60 yards rushing. This 60 yards turns into 80 if you take out the sacks given up by the Utah offense.
Another key play to note was the fumble at the goal line. Huntley had the right read and looked to pull it and take off, but the inexperience with Devin Brumfield doomed them on the key play, as the sophomore back latched on to the ball, instead.
The senior quarterback and leader has responded well to adversity and will need to do just that to get the Utes back on track.
It’s time to live and learn, not be stubborn or oblivious
In sports, as well as life, in general, there’s a fine line to walk between being confident and stubborn. It’s extremely apparent that the Utes are confident in their abilities, but when you get popped in the mouth like they did on Friday, self-reflecting needs to take place. The Utes’ man-to-man coverages has rarely been good against Air-Raid type offenses, but they chose to go with their strength against that last night, and well, it burned them.
Towards the end, adjustments were made and those adjustments helped them be more effective. However, when you play an even more potent Air-Raid attack the following week, you don’t come to the press conference and say that the game plan and scheme won’t change and that you’ll be ready for that challenge. Do that and you’re just asking for a team to throw for 350+ yards on you, again.
In that same press conference, it was also noted that the Utes weren’t ready for the run late in the game [you're excused if you’re reading this and just spit out your drink]. Soon after, Whittingham placed the blame for the late running success against the very position that said they weren’t expecting it. You can’t be oblivious to one of the oldest and most obvious clock-killing strategies in football, and while that’s Football 101 for the players, that also falls on their position coach.
The running back position might be the least of Utah’s concerns
Utah's running back depth was on display Friday night, after Zack Moss left the game early with a shoulder injury that everyone will eagerly await the results for. Brumfield led the Utes in rushing with 63 yards on 10 carries, while Devonta'e Henry-Cole rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown on four attempts. Derrick Vickers also got involved with 26 yards on four carries.
If there was one bright spot outside of Huntley in Utah's disappointing performance, it was that of the running game—aside from the fumble. The Utes will need that depth to shine in the coming weeks as Moss recovers from his injury. Ludwig and Kiel McDonald adjusted masterfully to losing their star, now it’s time to see how the other position groups adjust to being outschemed and outplayed.