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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Breaking down Utah football’s offense, defense

Photo+courtesy+of+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle
Photo courtesy of The Daily Utah Chronicle

Offense

As sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson was being carried off the field on the shoulders of a sea of Utah fans following the 27-21 home victory last Saturday over then-No. 5 Stanford, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was sitting back in his living room preparing for a Utes’ open offense that is averaging 470 yards per game.

“Right now we’re not talented enough to play bad and win” — so goes the phrase Rodriguez has said over and over this season.

But Utah might be talented enough, especially on offense.

Last week’s stunning victory over the Cardinal however, was a defensive victory. The Utes held the Stanford offense to a season-low 21 points. It was the offense that came out the tunnel blazing.

Led by Wilson and a gang of weapons, the Utes went into halftime of last Saturday’s game with a 21-14 lead. They became the only team so far this season to score three touchdowns on the Cardinal in the first half.

Thanks to the defense, Utah would only need two field goals in the second half to maintain the lead and eventually capture the school’s biggest win since joining the Pac-12 conference in 2011.

Wilson threw for 234 yards last week, a season low, and after a couple of off weeks, reestablished himself as a moderate dual-threat quarterback with 35 rushing yards against Stanford.

Against Oregon State on Sept. 14, Wilson ran for a career-high 142 yards on just 13 carries.

Wilson has a band of receivers to spread the ball around to, most notably junior Dres Anderson, who had one receiving and one rushing touchdown against the Cardinal.

Anderson’s 21.1 yards per catch rank him first in the conference and his 98.7 receiving yards per game are 23rd in the country.

But don’t expect Wilson to exclusively throw to Anderson.

Utah has four receivers with more than 15 catches, the number Arizona receiving leader Samajie Grant has. Three of the Utes’ receivers have more than 20 catches. Along with Anderson, expect senior Sean Fitzgerald to be targeted a number of times by Wilson this Saturday at Arizona Stadium.

At running back, Utah looks a lot different than it has the past two years. Former running back John White, who set the single season school rushing record with 1519 yards in 2011, graduated last year, leaving head coach Kyle Whittingham with three unproven running backs.

Junior college transfer Bubba Poole has taken most of the carries for the Utes in 2013, with 85, though he has split playing time with a stockier Kelvin York and quicker Lucky Radley. Still, Wilson leads the team in rushing touchdowns with five. Poole, York and Radley only have a combined four rushing touchdowns.

Hopefully for Arizona, Rodriguez was taking notes while Wilson was celebrating a benchmark victory of a top-ranked opponent, because the Utes’ balanced spread offense has depth at every skill position, giving them plenty of room to cover up their mistakes.

—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella

Defense

Stanford scored more than 30 points in every game this season — until last week, that is, when it faced the Utah Utes.

The Utes’ defense held the then-No. 5 Stanford Cardinal to 21 points, six points shy of a Cardinal victory.

Although Utah had a tremendous showing on offense, it was obvious that much credit for the Utes’ victory was due to its resilient defense, which didn’t allow a big bad ranked team to blow its unranked house down.

To be sure, any defense that allows 21 points still has work to do, but Utah is definitely on the upswing. Back in September, it allowed 51 points off of the Oregon State Beavers.

The Arizona Wildcats seem to be the opposite of Utah, allowing more and more yards each game of the season.

The numbers show that besides size and maturity, Utah has talent on its defensive squad.

As a whole, the Utes’ defense averages 133.7 yards per game, which is third in the Pac-12 for rushing defense.

Senior linebacker Trevor Reilly is tied for second in the Pac-12 in fumbles recovered. Last week, Reilly recovered a fumble in the last minute of the third quarter.

Utah converted the fumble into a field goal. This was one of three fumbles Utah forced and one of the two Reilly himself recovered, which eventually sailed through the uprights.

The Utes’ defense showed its true strength in a clutch situation. Stanford was forced in the last minute to go for a touchdown, which, if successful, would have tied the game. Utah, however, held it six yards shy and Stanford was forced to throw.

One bad pass later, the Utes found themselves victorious.

Although the defense delivered a strong performance last week, there’s one part of the team that shouldn’t be overlooked — a part that Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez admitted the Wildcats are struggling with.

The Utes are also impressive on special teams.

Last week, redshirt freshman kicker Andy Phillips made two field goals and two PATs.

By the way, he’s never played football before.

Phillips, according to Utah’s official website, was on the US Ski Team from 2007 to 2011. He walked onto the squad in 2012. But the 24-year-old freshman can kick.

Phillips has no problems with consistency. He’s made all 11 field goals and 27 PATs he has attempted. He was also named Pac-12 special teams player of the week after his performance against the Cardinal.

He isn’t perfect, though, as his kick-off record shows that he has only had six touchbacks out of 32 kick-offs.

Regardless, a consistent kicker is essential in giving the Utes a buffer, as was the case last Saturday.

But Arizona finds itself inconsistent in the kicking department. Last week, senior kicker Jake Smith made all his PAT tries, but only one of two field goal attempts.

The Utes have all the ingredients, but can they cook up another win?

—Follow Scarlett McCourt @scarlettnoelani

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