In his first meeting with the team prior to opening fall camp, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham forewarned them that they would have to deal with adversity for the first time in nearly two years. Coach Whittingham's prediction became a reality Thursday night as adversity struck the Utes hard in a 23-20 overtime loss to TCU.
The game was a hard fought, hard hitting contest on both sides. However, TCU's superior execution and coaching strategy proved to be the difference in the game.
The Utes started strong in both the first and second halves, but TCU's defense was able to adjust and stymie the Ute offensive attack for a majority of the game. TCU's defensive effort was brilliant, stuffing the run on first and second downs, and forcing young Brian Johnson to deal with seven and eight men in the secondary on third and long. Utah's abysmal third down conversion percentage (34% on 8 of 23) was due in large part to outstanding execution of a perfect defensive scheme. The story of the game was that the Utes couldn't generate any offense in the 4th quarter, when they needed it most.
For the second straight week, the Utah defense saw an offensive scheme that they had not seen on tape. The Utes came into the game expecting to see TCU's version of the spread option. Instead, TCU switched to the power I option to take advantage of Aaron Brown's blazing speed. TCU's adjustment worked, as Brown's big play ability sparked every scoring drive by the Horned Frogs. Although the Utah defense eventually adjusted to the option, it was too little, too late as the Horned Frogs pulled out the win.
• QB Brian Johnson showed a great deal of poise throughout much of the game. Although his performance (15-30 passing for 208 yards and an interception alongside 42 rushing yards and a touchdown) couldn't be considered one for the ages, he played well enough to give the Utes a chance to win.
• The defense was able to adjust to TCU's option in the second half. TCU threw Utah a curveball by returning to the power I option game, and freshman RB Aaron Brown gave the Utes fits all night. However, the Utes adjusted and made several key defensive stands in the 4th quarter.
• The entire team played with tremendous heart in the face of adversity. It was hot and humid, TCU was fired up after a humiliating loss to SMU last week, and TCU's coaching staff came up with brilliant offensive and defensive schemes to keep the Utes off balance. A lesser team could have easily folded, but the Utes battled until the end.
• The Utes have the opportunity to show how well they respond to adversity. This is a tremendous learning opportunity for a young, inexperienced team that should help them down the road.
• The running back position was exposed as being painfully thin right now. The return of a healthy Mike Liti should ease Quinton Ganther's burden, and give him a chance to rest.
• The offensive line must do a better job of opening up seams on the inside for Ganther to run through. The spread doesn't work without an effective running game.
• The Utah defense must do a better job attacking the edges of the defense. If the outside pursuit doesn't improve, Utah will have a tough time against Air Force's option attack on Thursday.
• Utah must find a way to effectively stop the run. TCU's 228 rushing yards proved to be the difference maker in the game.