Utah Utes Football: Duck Annihilation, Polls, Bye Week, and the Cal Factor

By: Ryan Boyce / @WarPartyU

It goes without saying that we all witnessed a complete ambush of the Oregon Ducks, by Utah, over the weekend. Indeed, it was a calculated and decisive plan executed to such a degree that it almost seemed surreal. 

I proposed last week that I didn’t believe Oregon was the same team. Nor was I sold on Adams or Lockie at the helm. I offered some observation, alludung to the holes in the Duck defense. Most notably, I suggested that the staff and the team up on the hill had far more “in the bag” for league play than they were intent on showing the country in their OOC contests. Far be it from me to gloat, but most of my observation and speculation was on point. 

I could not, however, have EVER suggested that Utah would come on like a ticking time bomb laden with five years of pent-up PAC-12 aggression and frustration, and unleash it upon the likes of a highly esteemed Oregon squad and their fan base as they did. Truly the performance of Travis Wilson and company will not soon be forgotten. 

Needless to say, some big questions loom ahead for Oregon. Perhaps, even bigger questions lie in store for Utah.
Questions like: Do the Utes belong in the national picture? Can they sustain the huge bump into the top 10 with continued success? Does Utah need this bye week? Are the Utes ready for another round with a spectacular opposing QB and an air attack like Cal?

I answer these questions with a simple, resounding YES.

We often hear the cry that the AP and Coaches Polls are meaningless and irrelevant. For a time, I was inclined to agree. However, to assume that 13 prominent individuals, all busy professionals in their respective fields, come together and start from scratch in November is absurd for more reasons than time and space will allow to be explained. We all know the polls matter. Otherwise, why would we bicker about them, such as we do? In practical terms, the top 25 teams are in a playoff to be considered for the playoffs. In applying the metrics, such as they were devised and employed a year ago by the CFP committee, it’s a simple equation.

Utah definitely looks the part of a playoff team:

  1. Undefeated in play.
  2. Offensively-explosive both on the ground and in the air.
  3. Defensively-relentless, suffocating and merciless, both on the ground and in the air.
  4. Special Teams-“Worth the price of admission, alone,” per Coach Helfrich (and he’s right).
  5. The SOS argument is as strong, thus far, as any team in the land, with Michigan holding up their end of the bargain.
  6. Finally, a statement was definitely made in Autzen Stadium. The only win I see to this point that may be better is Mississippi knocking off Bama at Bryant-Denny. The actual strength of both victories remains to be certain. But remember, per Chris Long, we don’t project. We assess only what we’ve seen.

With that, no voter holding a ballot can reasonably argue that Utah isn’t worthy of a top ten appointment and perhaps even top 5. The Utah Utes belong.

The question of whether a team who comes from the back of the pack and makes a splash can sustain the initial impact over time is always a tricky one. Factors like talent and depth are always thrown into the mix. Travis Wilson, while injured, threw for four touchdowns and ran for one against Oregon, and has an efficiency rating that tops the charts. Imagine a healthy TW. I counted nine different receiving targets in Eugene, from senior leaders to up and coming freshman phenoms. Devontae Booker is averaging around 150 all-purpose yards per game and apparently is a threat to throw the ball. Who saw that coming? The back up depth at every skill position is two and three deep with talented, complimentary contributors. On defense, it appears that the front seven is as brutal as you’ll find nation wide, and two and three deep. The return of Dimick will only bolster a unit anchored by two linebackers, Jared Norris and Gionni Paul, who are as fundamentally sound and versed in their discipline as any I’ve seen in years. The secondary, which we all thought to be the weak link, has thus far flourished and turned out to be “not too shabby,” judging by the turnover margin. All that said, I’m confident in the staying power of the Utes. And I believe they are too.

In a bye week, coming off such a momentous victory as Utah is, one of two things generally occur. Either the edge is lost by way of over-confidence and lack of focus or the momentum carries a team through some great, tune up and refinement sessions and into the next game. How to really know which team will show up is virtually impossible until kickoff. Utah is a little banged up. Wilson could definitely benefit from some R&R on his bum shoulder. Tim Patrick, Kylie Fitts, and Hunter Dimick may also reap the rewards of some additional healing time. Fortunately for Utah, there haven’t been and currently aren’t any major, game-plan-altering injuries this year save Troy McCormick. Given the perception and understanding of what we think we know about Kyle Whittingham, most will likely agree that the use of the bye week will not be squandered. I expect Coach Whittingham will rest his guys up some this week, implement some extra film study, and then hit it hard next week, in preparation for California. The bye week and the opportunity to “come down” after such a big game is good for Utah and their objective.

On October 10, Utah will play host to arguably one of the most accomplished, if not the best, passing attacks in the conference in the California Bears. Jared Goff is the vetted QB and leader of a squad that puts up video game-like numbers week in and week out. But, I see in Cal the same deficiency I see in many great teams as of late: no defense. With all due respect to the scoring juggernauts of the 21st CFB century in the land, the trends I’m seeing suggest if you can’t play defense, you can’t score at will against teams that can. Teams like the Utes. Defense travels and defense wins championships. Coach Whittingham knows this and he can’t ever be accused of not putting good defense on the field. It just so happens that he has a superb defensive unit this year and an offense that is balanced and potent. 

The ceiling for Utah is indeed high. Are they ready to be spread out and thrown on repeatedly? I see a gap control front 4 owning the line of scrimmage. I see linebackers who can drop in coverage and break up passes. I see a ball hawk secondandary getting turnovers 2 to 3 three times a game. And when I see these things, I’m inclined to believe that there might not be a better defensive unit, as a whole, in the country. Utah will be ready for Cal. Will Cal be ready for Utah? We will see.

Strap it on Ute fans. This ride just took an abrupt lane change and it’s hammer down from here on out. It’s going to be a special year.

About the author

Grant Bagby

Since moving to Utah in 2005, I have changed from following all sports in D.C/Virginia to following all sports in Utah. I am a Chicago Bulls fan first (Born and raised by my father), but I am also a hardcore Jazz fan with 7 years of being a season ticket holder under my belt. I started TornBySports to write about the BYU/Utah Rivalry after Max Hall ran his mouth.