Utah football: Consistency issues costly for Utes in contests against ranked teams

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12 2013 4:45 p.m. MST

While penalties haven't always been the mistake(s) that cost the Utes, other factors of the game have crept up at inopportune times. Two of those biggest factors have been third-down conversions and turnovers.

In games against then-No. 12 UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State, the Utes gave up nine turnovers; against their five non-ranked FBS opponents, Utah has handed away 10 turnovers, a full turnover less per game. The Utes' turnover margin of minus-1.0 per game is 115th in the country.

While Utah hasn't been impressive in third-down conversion percentage overall — its 31.9 conversion rate is 109th nationally — the Utes' percentage has gone down when it's played ranked opponents. Against the Bruins, Cardinal and Sun Devils, Utah converted just 28.9 percent of its third downs, while it converted 32 percent against its five FBS opponents.

Yet, despite these numbers, the three games against ranked teams show just how close the Utes could be to having more wins in Pac-12 play.

During the 27-21 win over Stanford, the Utes converted 6-of-14 third downs and gave up just one turnover.

Compare that to the two losses: vs. the Bruins in a seven-point game, the Utes had their worst game of the three with six turnovers while converting 2-of-13 third downs. In the one-point loss to Arizona State, the Utes had two turnovers and went 5-of-18 on third down.

With some improvement in these areas, the line between winning and losing could be narrowed even further.

For a team needing two wins in its final three games — with games at Washington State and home against Colorado also ahead — the Utes need to find ways to make these consistency issues turn in their favor to go bowling, even if it's just a little.

Whittingham said his team, which didn't go to a bowl last year, is improved this season. Still, getting wins will cure some of Utah's ails.

"We're more competitive, but it’s not about being competitive," Whittingham told the media during his weekly press conference on Monday. "It's about getting W's, and so, that’s the next hurdle we got to get over is finding a way to win these games. But like I said, last year, a lot of the games we weren’t even in. So, we made progress, but nobody cares unless you get the W. Nobody cares what else is going on."

Email: bjudd@deseretnews.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd

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