Utah and Utah State played an epic game Friday night going into overtime to finally decide it. In the end Utah State pulled off its first win against Utah since 1997. I'm going to do a quick take on the game because it has relevance to Cal's game on Saturday. As I am sure you read in ManBearCal's Previewing the Southern Utah Offense, Utah State beat Southern Utah in week one 34-3. Reading that article I assumed that Southern Utah's struggles were due to their loss of receivers from last year but after watching the Utah State defense in action, I have to believe that the Thunderbird offense is better than last week's score indicates.
This wasn't a game where Utah lost it because of poor play. Utah State came out and won the game. The Aggies gained 192 yards on the ground against a defensive line that may be the best in the Pac-12. Star Lotulelei had few impact plays and DE Joe Kruger got so frustrated he was ejected from the game in the 4th quarter for throwing a punch.
Utah State's defense set the tone by pressuring the quarterback on nearly every play. The three sacks in the box score do not tell the whole story: Utah's starting quarterback, Jordan Wynn, took all three sacks and was knocked out of the game in the last minute of the first half with an apparent shoulder injury.
Lets look at one of those sacks. Utah is lined up in a spread formation and empty backfield, Utah State is showing blitz but will only rush the four linemen.
Utah state will get pressure on Wynn with just the front four by running a stunt with its tackles. The defensive tackle and defensive end on the right side of the Utah State formation will occupy the Utah guard and tackle on that side of the line while the left side defensive tackle will take a step back and loop through the gap his teammates create.
The center makes a desperate lunge to get at the DT but he doesn't have a chance, the DT has an unobstructed route to the quarterback. The quarterback cannot find an open receiver because Utah State has seven men in coverage.
The DT, now just a blur in the circle, sacks Wynn causing a further loss of yardage.
Without a running threat in the backfield, Utah State was able to pull off a stunt to get the sack. The third down play was an incomplete pass to set up this punt: Utah has that relatively new punt formation where the players on the line have extremely wide splits (I assume to put them in their punt cover lanes and to spread out the rushers), there is a second line of three who will prevent anyone from running directly at the punter. Utah State lines up in their standard punt return formation but they will bring two more players up to rush just before the snap.
Three Utah State players are going through the gap between the center and the guard, it is the player circled in white who we will follow this play. Notice the snap isn't perfect but it isn't horrible either.
The mini-wall blocks two of the free players allowing the circled Utah State player to get to the punter untouched. To block a punt you want to jump at the spot the ball will be, if you jump at the punter's foot you will run into him and incur a penalty. You can see the Utah State player execute his jump perfectly.
The Utah punter, Sean Sellwood, has a very powerful leg and averaged 52 yards a punt in this game (526 punting yards total). Unfortunately this power works against him once the punt has been blocked, the ball flies backwards 25 yards.
Utah State recovers for their first score.
The tone would be set for the rest of the game. Utah State would score again a few minutes later after recovering a fumbled shotgun snap. Wynn and later Hays were forced out of the pocket and often had to throw the ball away to avoid the relentless pass rush. Utah State's offense was good enough to move the ball and keep them in the game.
Utah's offense was an enigma early in the game. I noticed last week that the play calling was schizophrenic, they would pass out of spread formations and run out of two tight end power formations, this may have led to Utah State's ability to mount such a unrelenting pass rush. Utah didn't roll over after getting behind early though. Their defense forced two fumbles and nine punts. Their offense started passing out of the two tight end power run formation they were using and that passing game was effective. They battled back from a 13-0 deficit to tie it 20-20 and even had a chance to win the game on a field goal at the end of the 4th quarter.
It wasn't Utah's night as Utah State scored first in overtime with a touchdown. Utah looked like they would tie the game but an offensive pass interference call negated a touchdown and they failed to convert a long 4th and goal.
If you didn't see this game (or you were like me and your DVR stopped recording before the end of the game - luckily I got the late night replay), be sure look for replays on ESPNU (unfortunately none on the schedule at the moment).
Post-game thoughts: Was Utah trying to hide their true passing game during non-conference games or was this a learning experience for their 25 year old offensive coordinator? Will Utah still be vulnerable to the pass rush when Cal comes to town? And while I hope that Jordan Wynn is healthy enough to play, will there be a quarterback controversy in late October as Hays showed more ability to elude the pass rush than Wynn while both completed approximately half their passes? I will be watching Utah State to see how they fare against Wisconsin (next week - Sept 15th) and BYU (October 5th).
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