The Utah offense was stifled all afternoon in a costly 20-19 defeat to nationally ranked Arizona State. The Utes gave up a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, slipping below .500 for the first time all season and losing to the Sun Devils for the 10th consecutive game.
The grades are in. Here's how the Utes fared as a team.
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for Utah Policy Daily and Utah State University alum. The co-founder of magazine AggieBluePrint.com, he has interned for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @wilklogan
At 100 percent, quarterback Travis Wilson (6-21, 121 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) struggled enough against a defense ranking just 60th in the nation in scoring defense. He also didn’t have enough protection on the offensive line, which coach Kyle Whittingham joked gave Wilson only 1.8 seconds to throw.
After a poor performance for the third straight game, Wilson has made clear he is lacking confidence. Neither Bubba Poole (17 carries, 43 yards) nor Kelvin York (12 plays, 39 yards) found rhythm. Dres Anderson (four catches, 100 yards) was one of two receivers to catch passes, but he never saw the ball in the fourth quarter. Overall, the Utes managed just 247 total yards and had two turnovers.
The Utes got six sacks and limited the Sun Devils to just 293 yards. ASU scored 50-plus points in five of its eight games. Its 46.6 points per game was the sixth-highest average in the nation. But 166 of the Sun Devils’ yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Utah front collapsed. It drops at least two half-grades for doing that.
Senior running back Marion Grice gained 136 yards on 20 carries for perhaps his best game of the season.
Punter Tom Hackett was splendid time and again, averaging 50.6 yards on nine punts. He even had a 70-yarder and placed three punts inside the ASU 20-yard line. Andy Phillips went just 3-6 on field goals the past two weeks after previously going 11-11. He bounced back on Saturday, however, going 2-2 with a 51-yarder.
Receiver Geoff Norwood busted a 31-yard punt return. Utah’s coverage team nullified ASU punt returners but permitted a 44-yard kick return from Grice.
In a one-point loss, Utah failed on a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown to make it 7-6 early in the first quarter. Certainly, it was unorthodox to go for two points that early in the game.
Utah gained just 17 yards on 13 plays in the fourth quarter, its only first down coming through a penalty. Wilson threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter. But Whittingham insisted that play calls did not become conservative as the Utes nursed a double-digit lead in the final stanza.
Now 4-5 heading to mighty Oregon next week, Utah could not afford to fall apart down the stretch like it did in this home game. A defense can be expected to be dominant for so long, but the group picked an awful time to pull an about-face.
Wilson’s play is bipolar compared to his performance in the first half of the season. He needs better protection. Whittingham can argue that Utah did not play it safe offensively in the fourth quarter, but the actual plays and statistics do not reflect that. It was not proactive, playing not to lose when it was leading, sacrificing momentum.