Utah avoided the turnover bug on Saturday for the first time since its season opener. In addition, the running game was clicking and the defense was dominant as the Utes snapped a two-game winning streak on the road, beating Pittsburgh 26-14.
Five keys to Utah’s victory:
1. Utah running back John White IV: Running strong and with purpose from the beginning, White was a big reason why the Utes were within striking distance at halftime. White, who took a couple pops that dislodged his helmet and caused a cut below his ear, seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. He finished the afternoon with 171 yards on 36 carries.
2. Utah kicker Coleman Petersen: The junior was another main factor in keeping the Utes in the game, finishing 4-for-4 on field goals. When the Utah offense was stalling in the red zone, Petersen’s foot was solid and accurate. He connected on first-half field goals of 23 and 34 yards, and then added a pair from 39 and 45 yards, respectively, after halftime.
3. Utah defense: The Utes allowed the Pitt offense into the end zone exactly zero times, with both of the Panthers’ touchdowns coming from their special teams. Utah held Pitt to 120 total yards, including only 46 rushing yards by Ray Graham, who came into the game with a nation-leading 870 yards on the ground. The defense also produced six sacks, including two each by Brian Blechen and Derrick Shelby, who also had a late interception and return for touchdown.
4. That lucky play: Sometimes a team is the recipient of good fortune, as was the case for Utah late in the first half. With Jon Hays under tremendous pressure, he simply got rid of the ball, which was tipped by a Pitt lineman up and over another Panther defender and straight into the hands of Luke Matthews, who ran it into the end zone. Matthews’ 33-yard touchdown pulled Utah to within one point at 14-13.
5. Utah quarterback Jon Hays: His final numbers were nothing to write home about – 14-of-23 for 127 yards – but with his first D-1 start under his belt, Hays looked much more comfortable, and for the most part clearly made much better decisions. Hays threw for the touchdown to Matthews, but perhaps the most important statistic was a big goose egg – that representing no interceptions.
Chris, who has been covering sports ranging from high school preps to professional teams for almost 20 years, feels that football season is the best time of the year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.