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Utah Utes Football: Cal Key Takeaways

NCAA Football: Utah at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Losing is never fun, but losing the way Utah lost to Cal last Saturday was brutal. The 119th ranked Cal defense holding Utah on the goal line. Injuries. Officiating errors. Truth be told, Utah probably scores 9 times out of 10 in that goal line scenario, but reality is that the Utes choked the win away. The silver lining of losing though is that there are plenty things that the coaches can use to coach up the players going forward.

INJURY ADVERSITY

DT Lowell Lotulelei. DE Kylie Fitts, CB Reggie Porter. Center Hiva Lutui, Center JJ Dielman. WR Tim Patrick. WR Cory Butler-Byrd. Center Lo Falemaka. RB Troy McCormick. WR Kyle Fulks. Those are just a few of the players who were hurt prior to or during the Cal game. There were multiple 2nd, 3rd, and 4th string players who stepped up to keep Utah in the ballgame with a chance to win at the end. Demari Simpkins (WR), Pasoni Tasini (DT), and Tyrone Smith (WR) stepped up and made big plays. The “Next Man Up” mentality was successful and showed Utah’s improved depth since joining the PAC-12. The Utah defense held Cal out of the red zone for the whole game. Cal only capitalized on the big plays against mismatches with their top WRs against Utahs 2nd and 3rd string CBs. If you would have told me beforehand that Utah would hold Cal below 30 points, then I would have assumed Utah won the game. The defense did its job and the offense nearly got the job done in the face of major adversity.

The reality is that Utah is going to have to continue having its 2nd and 3rd string players step up in order to compete the rest of the year. Injuries are a part of the game and no one is going to feel sorry for Utah. The fact that Utah has already showed that it is capable of weathering injuries with its depth is a promising site for the Utah coaches and fans.

NCAA Football: Utah at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

OFFICIATING

I want to tread this topic lightly as PAC-12 officials are equally bad in nearly every game they officiate, but the referees in the Utah vs Cal game were absolutely terrible for both teams. The timeout issue at the end of the game was really inexcusable as the referees should have corrected their own error instead of making Utah pay for the officials mistake. Cal also was on the receiving end of some blatantly poor officiating. So at the end of the day both teams are equally mistreated by the officials, but timing is everything in football. The timing of the timeout issue destroyed Utah’s focus in my opinion. The focus was moved from the play at hand to the fact the officials just stole a timeout and the strategy needed to be changed. Kyle Whittingham furthered this point by screaming at the officials after the game “That’s on you guys!”

The key takeaway here is that no matter how terrible the officiating may be, Utah’s coaches and players need to keep their focus on the game and task at hand. Kyle acknowledged this by essentially saying that officials are part of the game and that Utah needs to execute regardless of the situations that arise from officiating. However, I do wish the PAC-12 would do more to hold referees accountable for their poor performances and make it public. Something like public relations release on how the officials graded out would show the public that the conference values quality officiating.

PLAYERS MAKE PLAYS

Now it is easy to blame the loss on the officials or injuries, but at the end of the day Utah did not execute on their final three plays of the game. The play calling, while not my favorite, was good enough to win the game if the players just made one more play. I would have preferred Armand Shyne, who has shown a more physical running style, to take the ball instead of Zack Moss and to have QB Troy Williams take the ball from under center. But what do I know...I’m no coach.

On the tight end flat pass to Evan Moeai, Troy Williams appeared to be hesitant to run with it to the corner of the goal line. Troy then over-thought the pass to Moeai and threw an unnecessarily hard pass from 3 yards away. On the two running plays, Zack Moss appeared to bail on following his blocker and tried to roll out to the left. It was failed execution in the redzone on the most critical play of the game. The bottom line in this game is Utah could have won the game if their players made the biggest plays in the biggest moments. The reality is that Utah came up one play short. The players will learn from the experience, and hopefully will make that last play in the future.

OVERALL

Utah fought back well in the face of adversity to give itself a chance to win. The silver lining in this game is that the loss was to a PAC-12 North team, so it does not affect any potential tiebreakers in the PAC-12 South. Utah played great defense, and almost had enough in the tank to get the job done on offense. Kyle Whittingham and the coaches will coach up their players, especially Troy Williams and Zack Moss, so that they can make those big plays at the end of games in the future.

Grade = B-