Posted on December 4, 2020
Pac-12 teams have played from one to three games this 2020 season. Utah started late and has played in only two contests, so I am grading the Utes by phase of the game, rather than by position group, evaluating the special teams, defense, and offense respectively.
Special Teams: B-
Let’s get the easiest of the three sides of the ball out of the way first. Utah prides itself on having some of the best specialists in the nation, and this year isn’t an exception.
Jadon Redding has been handling the placekicking duties with ease, picking up right where he left off last season. Newcomer Jordan Noyes has been really solid in the kick-off game, showing off his ability to kick the ball through the back of the end zone.
Even though he hasn’t had that many chances to return a punt, Britain Covey is more than capable of the returner job. The same goes for the kickoff return game for the Utes.
But the reason that the special teams unit doesn’t come away with an A is because of the punt game. Utah has grown accustomed to having great punters, like Tom Hackett and Mitch Wishnowsky, but at times Ben Lennon hasn’t lived up to their standards.
It seems that for every good game, he has two terrible ones. Whether it be punts nearly being blocked or kicks barely making it across midfield, Lennon struggles. However, there has been some improvement from his game last year to now; it just hasn’t been enough to boost the grade up higher.
Everyone knew there was going to be a drop off in Utah’s defense this season. Morgan Scalley and crew were tasked with replacing nine out of their eleven starters from last season. As a whole, the group hasn’t been overly impressive, but they also haven’t been a total mess either. The unit has made its share of big plays this season, but not as frequently as in years past.
Even in the moments where one group seemed to be struggling, there was another group that was able to pick up the defense and make some plays. The linebacking duo of Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell have been playing out of their mind this season, and are by far the most consistent group in both games.
The defensive line has been solid, showing an ability to get into the backfield and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While they haven’t recorded that many sacks so far, the group has shown the potential to make “Sack Lake City” a big deal again soon.
That leaves the secondary. This was the position group I was most worried about heading into this season, and while some of my fears have been somewhat tamed, new ones have come up in their place.
There have been quite a few times already this season when the secondary has shown its youth. But that’s to be expected, especially when a team starts its season against some of the best wide receivers in the Conference. While there have been those moments of youth shining through, they have also made some spectacular plays.
Faybian Marks’ interception vs. UW stands out. It was a well-executed play, giving the defense a confidence boost at an important time in the game.
Still, in adding up the performances, I give the defense a C+. It’s not terrible, but it leaves plenty of room for improvement as the season continues, and even heading into spring ball and future seasons.
If someone would have told me that the Utah offense was going to be the biggest issue by the midway point of the season I would have told them they were crazy. How could it be?
Utah had two very suitable options at quarterback in Cam Rising and Jake Bentley to go with an arsenal of talented wide receivers and tight ends. Add to that some killer running backs who might make the departure of Zack Moss less obvious, and a deep offensive line to protect whoever was named QB1.
The lack of involvement by the receivers and tight ends needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Not getting the ball into Brant Kuithe’s hands defies explanation. We are starting to see more of the wideouts, but it still feels like offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is playing it too safe with his calls.
But why wouldn’t he play it safe? Bentley has turned the ball over more times than anyone on the team. And when he isn’t throwing the ball to the opposing team, he is either under-throwing or overthrowing his wide receivers. Or he is making completely wrong decisions with the ball, not seeing open players past the sticks.
Even though they have struggled at times, the offensive line play is getting better. Versus Washington, the line was able to create some big holes for the Utah running backs but the pass protection still leaves much to be desired.
Ty Jordan has been one of the brightest spots of the offense. The true freshman is starting to separate himself from the other Utah backs, showing off his speed as well as his ability to catch the ball.
While the defense was able to get at least a passing grade the same couldn’t be said about the offense. There are too many glaring issues right now to give the unit a passing grade. But just like the defense, they have all the pieces in place to end the season better and have a successful spring camp.
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