Let me start this week's column out by saying despite what happened on the field Saturday afternoon in South Bend, I haven't talked to a single Ute fan who made the trip that didn't enjoy themselves — at least before the game began.
I said in this space last week that there is no better college football game-day experience than on the campus at Notre Dame. And on Saturday, upwards of 7,500 Utah fans found that out first hand.
Sadly, the Fighting Irish football squad wasn't quite as hospitable as their fan base. But let's be very clear about this: while Notre Dame played well, the 28-3 loss was more about what Utah couldn't or didn't do.
For a second straight week, the Utah offense struggled to find consistency and put drives together. Much of the focus and criticism after the contest has centered on quarterback Jordan Wynn, who certainly didn't play well. But this was a total offensive meltdown for the Utes.
Wynn takes most of the arrows from fans, but the O-line didn't help matters going against just a three- and four-man rush most of the afternoon, allowing a ton of pressure on the quarterback. And for a second straight week, the Utes' receiver corps didn't appear to be on the same page as the quarterback.
Defensively, the numbers would seem to indicate Utah did a decent job against the Irish, but a closer look tells you that they didn't do enough to pressure and take Notre Dame freshman QB Tommy Rees out of his comfort zone. As a result, Rees and the Irish offense were able to make enough plays to win the game going away.
In the span of two weeks, the Utes have gone from national title talk to trying to right the ship and avoid their first three-game losing streak in five years.
Coincidently, the last team to deal Utah a third consecutive loss was San Diego State in 2005. This week, the Utes face a much-improved Aztec team which sits at 7-3 overall and came within a whisker of beating TCU last Saturday. at Fort Worth, Texas.
My biggest concern this week is the matchup between the Utah secondary and the San Diego State wide receivers. In recent games, the Ute secondary has been victimized by big plays down the field, which could be problematic against an SDSU team that has one of the best tandems of wideouts. Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson have combined for 1,800-plus yards and 11 touchdowns. It will be the biggest test to date for Utah's Brandon Burton, Lamar Chapman and Conroy Black.
Away from the football field, let's not forget about the Runnin' Utes, who play their second game of the season tonight against a solid Montana team at the Huntsman Center.
Jim Boylen's team opened the season with a good win, 72-48, against Grand Canyon on Friday night.
If you haven't been out to see the latest edition of Utah hoops, I would tell you that you'll be pleasantly surprised by this year's team. Boylen has brought in more athleticism and players who can get up and down the court much better than recent teams.
Here are three players to watch when you head to the Huntsman: Will Clyburn, Josh Watkins and Chris Hines. Clyburn is a scorer who had 14 points and eight rebounds against Grand Canyon. He's unlike anyone Utah has had in recent years. "Jiggy" Watkins is a point guard and floor leader, a tough New York City kid who gets others involved and can get to the basket. Then there's Hines, who's been in the program for a couple of years now. Look for Hines to be the team's best outside shooter and instant offense off the bench.
Montana will be a bigger challenge for the Utes this eveing. The Grizzlies fell in their opener to Nevada, but were an NCAA tourney team last season. Montana has big bodies and should be able to present a bit of a challenge to Utah on the glass.
Tonight is the first of back-to-back Big Sky games for the Runnin' Utes, as they play Weber State on Saturday afternoon. I like Utah's athleticism to ultimately win out tonight and the Utes improve to 2-0 on the season.
I look forward to talking with you tonight from the Huntsman Center, along with my partner Jimmy Soto. Then Saturday night from San Diego. Stay classy, Ute fans.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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