Thoughts From the Gridiron: Utah vs USC

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NCAA Football game University of Utah vs. University of Southern California at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday November 21, 2020.(Photo by Tom Denton | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cole Bagley, Assistant Sports Editor

 

Pac-12 football got weird after dark as the Utah Utes and USC Trojans combined for five turnovers in the first half. Utah’s quarterback situation seemed like a giant mess and the young Utah secondary was heavily exposed in a 33-17 loss. 

 

Defense: 

Despite allowing 24 points in the first half, the defense had a solid first 30 minutes as they had two takeaways and took one of those to the house for the first Utah touchdown of the night. Utah also held the Trojans to only 39 rushing yards in the first half. It’s also important to note that due to offensive turnovers, the defense was forced to defend inside their own red zone twice which resulted in Trojan scores.

In the second half, Utah’s defense continued to impress as they held USC to only six points in the third quarter and only three in the fourth. Over the course of the game, Utah’s rush defense was strong, and the Trojans ended the night with only 96 yards on the ground.

However, the Utes got torched in the air as Kedon Slovis threw for 264 yards, 2 TD’s and went 24-35. But this comes as no surprise as the defense lost all of their stars to the NFL last season, played five freshmen and three of which are in the secondary. Experience is the most valuable thing to this Utah defense and right now that only comes a week at a time.

 

Standout: 

Nephi Sewell was everywhere for the Utes with the only interception against Slovis and recovered the fumble to put up six points for the Utes. He also broke up several passes and had ten tackles as well.

 

Room to improve: 

Easily the secondary. Slovis had his way against the young corners and safeties but they will improve with more experience and time.

“That secondary will get better,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “They’ll get better. And it was a big test. That’s probably the best core of wide receivers in the Pac-12. But we gotta get better. Nobody cares if you’re young, old, inexperienced or experienced. You gotta perform.” 

 

Offense: 

The offense struggled immensely from the start as Cam Rising threw an interception, fumbled and then sat the rest of the game due to an injury. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley immediately took over and while he did throw for 171 yards and one touchdown, he also threw two interceptions and was repeatedly throwing into double or even triple coverage. Not at all the type of performance you’d expect from a senior transfer from South Carolina.

 

Standout: 

In a game like this, it can be difficult to find positives when it seems like so many bad things happened. However, there were some bright spots amongst the committee of running backs. Jordan Wilmore, Devin Brumfield and Ty Jordan combined for 22 carries and 90 yards. Ty Jordan even had a few Moss-like plays, ran over several defenders and picked up extra yards.

“All four of those guys bring something different to the table,” Whittingham said. “Ty Jordan, I thought, gave us a little spark early on. It was a mistake on our part to not keep feeding him the ball throughout the game, we kinda backed off on that. Micah Bernard had some good runs, Devin Brumfield had some good runs, Jordan Wilmore had some good runs. So I think all four of them are going to continue to get playing time.”

 

Room to Improve: 

When you commit five turnovers in a game, you aren’t going to win. The three interceptions were just poor decisions on that of the quarterbacks as Bentley threw into double coverage on both of his and Rising simply overthrew his receiver. Overall the performance under center was very troubling, Bentley looked incredibly rusty and out of sync with his receivers. While Rising was taken out early due to an injury, he looked incredibly nervous when his lack of experience turned into several key mistakes.

Even though the Utes suffered a tough loss in their first game of the season, Coach Whittingham had a lot of positive things to say about the team and was in good spirits. These mistakes will provide a lot for the program to focus on and review in the coming week of practice and beyond.

With a lot of opportunities to improve, the Utes will look to bounce back next week against Arizona State in Tempe, AZ.

 

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