The identity of the Utah Utes is their running game. Take it away and you might as well give the team a cane, because that's what they're going to look like on offense--slow and hobbly. If the quarterback can't move the football with the passing game, the offense becomes the closest thing to one dimensional on the field.
After two games of less-than-good performances up front, one thing looks clear. If Utah can only manage an occasional downfield passing attack like the one we saw Friday night, this offense will sputter right along with Utah's chances to win any football game they play. Jordan Wynn couldn't get it done right in his final Utah game, and Jon Hays wasn't much better in relief. With the burden passing to Hays, it'll be up to him to reverse the trend to get Utah back in the thick of things for Pac-12 South contention.
Whether the focus on the run game is killing Utah's offense isn't clear. At first glance you'd think teams aren't respecting Utah's passing game and are just loading heavy on the box. Except not really; Utah pretty much played some four man fronts with occasional defensive back pressure. But there was no loaded box.
The more sobering tale is Utah's offensive line laying a total egg for most of the game. The Utes replaced their two offensive tackles this fall, and it showed as Utah State exploited the right side early and often in the first half. Percy Taumoela gave up at least two sacks and was called for a handful of penalties that killed drives.
Even more shocking was the lack of push the interior linemen got, as John White IV often found a little space but no hole to breath through. These guys actually came back! And they ended up opening up only the smallest of holes. Of the 27 rushes White had from scrimmage, over half went for three yards or less. Small pickings.
If you don't count the sacks, Utah rushed for 123 yards on 39 carries for a meager 3.15 yards per carry, and their rushing totals dip under a yard per carry through the first half of play. That sort of total is fine against the USCs of the world. It is very worrisome against Utah State, a team that replaced most of their front seven.
Jordan Wynn didn't play so well, but he hardly had any time to throw much of the first half. Jon Hays is a decent quarterback, and he'll occasionally drive you down the football field in a quick-passing tempo (like he did with that game-tying touchdown drive), but he'll make quizzical decisions (that 3rd and 20+ throw in overtime to a short checkdown was very puzzling) and can miss throws. Considering he struggled to produce with a good offensive line last year, and considering this one doesn't look much better, this is a bit of a problem. With Wynn now done playing football, it's up to Hays and Travis Wilson to provide something better.
The only good sign is that Utah's defense stepped up and held a pretty good Utah State spread attack to 13 points in regulation (seven off a blocked punt). Despite nearly 300 yards of offense in regulation, the Aggies really had trouble sustaining drives outside of one early touchdown. Star Lotulelei and the Utah D-line generally controlled things up front, and only got ran on when Utah State tried outside runs or some misdirection that kept the ball away from the interior. It was minimally effective.
Unfortunately, Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton proved to be mobile and adaptable, making big plays off of broken action, including a huge scramble in overtime to get the big first down. Almost anything Utah State served on the night proved to be superior to whatever Utah's offense could manage as a unit, dooming them from the start.
Utah isn't in deep trouble yet. But they have serious issues they need to address that will preclude them from making the noise they were expected to make. BYU is upcoming, then Arizona State's equally explosive offense, and then the Trojans. Utah needs to find a way to figure out how to win without relying solely on John White and the front seven, because otherwise they won't be long away from experiencing nights like this.
SB Nation Snippet
Wynn was a gamer, though and I hate seeing it end like this. I wanted it to be different ... I had hoped it would be different. But it wasn't. Sometimes things like this happen and it's always awful and sad and disappointing.
Good look, Jordan. You always gave me hope ... and when you were on, you were on. I wish you the best.