Thoughts From the Gridiron: Utah vs Washington State

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University of Utah Football player Vonte Davis (S, #19) in position in the Utes’ comeback win against Washington State University on Dec. 18, 2020 in Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cole Bagley, Assistant Sports Editor

 

There’s something about trailing to Cougars by three possessions in the final game of the season that brings out the best in Utah. While the first half wasn’t pretty, the second half was perfect as Utah scored 38 unanswered points and came back to win, 45-28. 

Defense

When your defense is on the field for 2/3 of the first half, it’s going to be difficult to maintain your composure and keep your energy at a high level. While Utah’s defense was keeping them in the game early, the three first half turnovers by the offense continually put them in a bad spot and they conceded 28 first half points.

But whatever head coach Kyle Whittingham said at halftime completely changed the demeanor of the Utes as they held Washington State to only 108 yards and 10:38 of possession in the second half. Additionally, Utah’s defense forced 4 turnovers in the final two quarters as the Cougars refused to hang onto the ball. 

“I said we have two options,” Whittingham said. “Go tell the other team we are done and they can have the victory or come out and play like we are capable of. That was it. I told them I wasn’t gonna watch the same thing in the second half as we watched in the first half. So it was either just throw out the white flag or come ready to play and be the team we are capable of.”

Standout

Forgetting the first half, who wasn’t good for the Utes on the defensive side of the ball today? Devin Lloyd yet again led by example with 9 solo tackles, one sack and four tackles for loss. I fully expect this man to be wearing an NFL jersey next fall.

Five Utes finished the day with five or more tackles as Nate Ritchie, Vonte Davis, Nephi Sewell and Tennessee Pututau were all over the field. Each of those players also recorded a tackle for loss.

Clark Phillips also had a special performance on his birthday as he recovered a fumble and took an interception 36 yards to the house for the final touchdown of the day.

Room to Improve

The Washington State offense went right at the Utah secondary as they gave up 188 yards through the air in the first half, including several long passes downfield. Jamire Calvin had a field day in the first half with 87 yards and a 49-yard long that set the offense up for a touchdown just three plays later.

However, it’s questionable that this needs to be improved as Utah took care of business in the second half. They held the Cougars to only 93 yards in the air, most of which were on the last drive of the game as Utah wanted to let the clock run out.

Offense

The offense was a disaster in the first half as they turned the ball over three times. The first was a questionable fumble by Ty Jordan, the second, Samson Nacua was outright stripped of the ball and the third was a horrific pass by Jake Bentley right into the arms of Jahad Woods. 

But just like the defense, the offense tuned its ear to the halftime speech, and we saw a completely different team take the field in the final thirty minutes of the season. The Utes went for 38 points, 279 yards, an average of 6.6 yards, a play and 19 minutes of possession. 

Standout

Enter third-string quarterback and senior Drew Lisk. He came into the game and the offense was immediately resurrected as they scored 38 unanswered points and went for 279 yards in the second half. Lisk also finished the day 15-26 for 152 and didn’t commit a single turnover. 

“Let’s go, you know,” Lisk said, “We were down, I think, 21-7 at the time. Maybe even 28, I’m not sure, but I just knew it was time to go. This is what I worked all week at practice for, all offseason, all of the last four years. The biggest thing is these guys on this team trust me and I trust them so there’s never a doubt in anyone’s mind, you just need to go out and execute.”

Ty Jordan continued to show why he was the most welcomed and unexpected surprise of the wild 2020 season. The freshman running back went for 19 carries, 151 yards and three touchdowns. There is no reason to keep comparing him to Zack Moss as he’s creating his own style.

“The first and second quarters were a little bit of a process of me feeling them out,” Jordan said. “See how they run, see how they get off the block, see how they hit and things like that. The second half is really when you gotta turn it on, especially when you are down 28-7.”

Britain Covey was yet again phenomenal as he brought his veteran experience to the final game of the season and recorded 6 catches for 134 yards. He also had a 91-yard touchdown, which now stands as the second-longest in school history. 

Room to Improve

Bentley’s numbers were incredibly deceiving, as his performance against Washington State may have been worse than against USC. While he was 7-14 with 153 yards and a touchdown, 91 one of those yards came from the Covey touchdown pass. Additionally, he was constantly throwing passes behind the receivers when they ran inside routes and putting them in dangerous situations as Covey took a few nasty hits.

Rightfully so, coach Whittingham benched Bentley and may have ended the short era led by the South Carolina transfer. 

While it wasn’t the season we expected, the Utes finished with an overall record of 3-2, ending on a very positive note with three straight wins. Utes fans also have a lot to be pleased with as the young Utah defense exceeded expectations, freshman Ty Jordan emerged as a star, and yes, old man Covey still has two years of eligibility as a Utah Man. 

 

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