CORVALLIS, Ore. — The Utes are making it a theme to make it interesting against Pac-12 Conference opponents. Equal to that mantra, however, has been that Utah just hasn't quite come out on top.
Whether it's a 10-point loss against USC, a one-touchdown defeat at UCLA or a 21-7 setback at eighth-ranked Oregon State, the Utes have displayed positives in all aspects.
However, none has been close to perfect — and in the past couple of weeks, the culprit has especially been the offense.
This particular season, at least, that mediocrity (often at best) has been fruitless thus far.
Offense: Last week in the Rose Bowl, freshman quarterback Travis Wilson's numbers weren't so bad, especially considering it was his first collegiate start: 23-of-33 for 230 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. Saturday night in Corvallis, it was much the same: 15-of-27, 172 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. The problem was, again, much as found against the Bruins: Wilson couldn't help the offense sustain drives. First-year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is clearly getting exposed against veteran defensive coaches like 15-year OSU coach and NFL instructor Mark Banker, too. At least Johnson (somewhat) learned his lesson from last week when 2011 all-conference rusher John White IV had only 11 carries for 44 yards. It's been a problem throughout the season with White entering the game averaging 17.8 carries-- down from 24 per contest last season when he set the Utah all-time single-season rushing record (1,519 yards). White had 20 touches against the Beavers, but with 68 yards rushing, it's arguable if he utilized them. No receiver had more than four receptions (Kenneth Scott and Jake Murphy) or 42 yards (Murphy). Thus, the Utes tallied just 307 total yards. Then again, the Utes were facing the 26th-best scoring defense in the nation. Still, three turnovers? GRADE: C-
Defense: A passing attack that ranked eighth in the nation entering the game (338 yards per game) was limited to 174. Impressive work from defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and Co. The defense exceeded its seven-game average (at 24 points allowed, 49th in the nation). With a 16-of-26, 174-yard passing effort, OSU signal-caller Cody Vaz never seemed quite comfortable in his first collegiate start at home and second overall. Unfortunately, he did more midway through the fourth quarter when the Beavers widened the gap to two scores. Star Lotulelei and the Utah defensive line hardly could have been more stellar facing Beaver tailback Storm Woods (17 carries, 46 yards) averaging 4.8 yards per carry in his first five collegiate games. Much doubt swirled around how a struggling Utah secondary could face another excellent duo of Pac-12 receivers in Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. Turns out, it wasn't too bad, especially when it came to Cooks (1 reception, eight yards). Wheaton caught seven balls for 90 yards. GRADE: A-
Special teams: One must wonder how long kicker Coleman Peterson will keep his starting job. Going 18-of-25 wasn't exactly sparkly last season, but with another momentum-slowing miss Saturday, he's 3-of-7 in his senior year. Perhaps Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and special teams coach Jay Hill should look north and take a page from Utah State in replacing their kicker (the Aggies' Nick Diaz made 53- and 48-yard field goals Saturday against New Mexico State in place of Josh Thompson, 4-of-6 this season, but with game-changing misses at Wisconsin and BYU). Punters Sean Sellwood and Tom Hackett combined for five punts and a 38.2-yard average. GRADE: C
Overall: Some wonder if defenses ever just get sick of providing opportunity after opportunity (after opportunity) to their offensive teammates, with no break. They weren't perfect, but that's what happened for the second straight week in the Pacific Northwest. Again, it's nice to see the Utes make it close to interesting in the past few weeks of Pac-12 action, but there's a sense of depravity with the talent level. Another argument can clearly be made that the young Wilson will continue to improve. Also, that Johnson will rely on White enough to provide sufficient spark for the defense to continue to reciprocate with opportunity creation. Will it happen in time for the Utes to make a postseason push? GRADE: C+
Rhett Wilkinson attends Utah State University and is the co-founder and editor of Aggie BluePrint, USU's first student magazine. Previously an intern for the Deseret News, he can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @wilklogan