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Utah football report card: Utes’ defense doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain in loss to Oregon State

Oregon State running back Trey Lowe, wearing black, is brought down by Utah linebacker Nephi Sewell
Oregon State running back Trey Lowe (21) is brought down by Utah linebacker Nephi Sewell (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore
Amanda Loman, Associated Press

Utah was outscored 28-10 in the second half and gave up 260 rushing yards as Oregon State beat Utah 42-34, handing the Utes their first Pac-12 loss of the season.

Here are the grades from the Utes’ loss in Corvallis:

Offense

Generally for Utah football, certainly in past seasons, Utah’s defense performs better than the offense. That was not the case on Saturday night in Corvallis.

Utah entered the night giving up an average of 22.7 points per game. Before the Oregon State loss, the highest-scoring performance by an opposing team was San Diego State, which scored 31 points in triple-overtime. In regulation, the most points scored by an opponent was 26, coming against BYU in a loss and USC in a win.

Utah’s offensive performance was not perfect — especially in the red zone — but a 34-point outing should usually get the job done. Unfortunately for the offense, the defense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.

Utah had 455 yards of total offense, 267 passing yards and 188 rushing yards, scored four touchdowns and kicked two field goals.

Cam Rising was 22 of 36 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 73 yards, showing his ability to make plays with his feet.

Running back Tavion Thomas was again the lead back for the Utes and ran tough, with 71 yards on 21 carries, including two touchdowns. Thomas looked to be injured after a rush late in the third quarter and did not return to the game.

Rising spread the ball around, with 10 players making catches. Devaughn Vele led the way with 69 yards on three catches, including a 45-yard catch. Dalton Kincaid had 55 yards, including a 43-yard catch late in the fourth quarter.

Utah scored on all three of its first drives and was up 24-14 at the break after a good first-half offensive performance. But the Utes only scored 10 points after the break, scoring just one touchdown.

Utah was able to move the ball between the 20s for much of the game, but struggled in the red zone. Of its eight red zone possessions, Utah scored touchdowns on four. Utah also turned the ball over on downs twice in the red zone.

The turnover on downs in the fourth quarter was critical. With just over six minutes left in the game and down by 11 points on fourth-and-2 at the goal line, Utah went for it instead of kicking a field goal to cut the deficit to eight points. Rising passed it to Covey in the end zone, but Covey was hit hard by Alex Austin, the ball trickled out and Oregon State came away with a huge stop. That play practically sealed the game for the Beavers.

Grade: B

Defense

Led by running back B.J. Baylor and a veteran offensive line, Oregon State showed why it is the best running team in the Pac-12.

The Utes’ defense, which was so good stopping the run during all three of their Pac-12 wins this season, knew Oregon State was going to run a lot and at times sold out to stop it but just couldn’t.

The Beavers rushed 38 times, threw just 19 times, and gained an average of 6.3 yards per run. Baylor rushed for 152 yards and a score and the Beavers as a whole had 260 rushing yards — the most given up in a game by the Utes since 2017, when Utah allowed 347 yards rushing in a loss to Oregon.

When Oregon State did pass, it found success, as quarterback Chance Nolan threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns, going 14-for-19. A couple times, coverage disintegrated for the Utes, leading to big completions.

Give credit to the Beavers, who are a really good running team. Aside from an opening night loss to Purdue, Oregon State has rushed for at least 240 yards in every game, including rushing for over 300 yards twice, but Utah’s rush defense did not live up to its billing against the Beavers, who ran all over the Utes.

Linebacker Devin Lloyd was ejected for targeting in the third quarter, which didn’t help the Utes’ cause. He will miss the first half of the UCLA game.

One positive play from the defense came in the second quarter, on the Oregon State possession following a turnover on downs from the Utes as Brandon McKinney forced a Nolan fumble that bounced into Junior Tafuna’s hands. But impact plays from the defense were few and far between on Saturday.

Grade: D

Special teams

Special teams continues to be an issue for this Utah football team.

Utah had both of its punts blocked — only one officially because of an Oregon State penalty. It was the first blocked punt the Utes have allowed since 2014 and it shifted the momentum to the Beavers.

Up by three with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter, the Utes punted for the first time and it was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Luke Musgrave, putting Oregon State up 28-24

Utah’s second punt of the night was also blocked, and Oregon State returned it to the Utah 10-yard line, but the play was wiped out because the Beavers had two players wearing No. 8 on the field at the same time, a penalty, and Utah kept the ball.

Having two punts blocked in one night is something that should never happen.

Kicker Jordan Noyes made all four extra points and added two field goals, but missed a 52-yard field goal with 13:26 left in the game which would have that Oregon State’s lead to one point.

Grade: D-