Football season is underway.
Utah defeated Weber State 40-17 to begin the 2021 campaign. The Utes did enough to win going away, but there is room for improvement heading into the second week of the season.
Here are the grades from the Utes’ win, their first victory of the year:
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called new starting quarterback Charlie Brewer’s performance “good, but not great.”
That seemed to be fit for a lot of Utah’s performance on Thursday. The Utes certainly did enough to beat Weber State by 23 points, but there were plenty of miscues and mistakes along the way, which Whittingham will certainly want tightened up before next week’s in-state game against BYU.
Brewer looked every bit like he was starting his fifth season of college football after playing four years in a Power Five conference. He was poised, accurate and didn’t force any bad throws. He finished the night 19-for-27 for 233 yards and two touchdowns, with two potential touchdowns dropped by receivers. He threw an interception on a planned last-second Hail Mary at the end of the second quarter, though that really shouldn’t be held against his overall game. He finished with a good passer rating of 159.9 and generally just looked like he was the right man for the job. It was a good performance. Postgame, Brewer said that he felt good in the offense.
“I thought he did a good job. His numbers were good, not great. He did throw a pick but that’s not on him because we were just trying throw one up at the end of the half and he did what he was coached up to do. I thought he had some great poise in pocket, did a nice job of keeping his eyes down the field. He was accurate and close to 70%. He did a good job of running the offense,” Whittingham said.
Through one game, it looks like the focal point in the offense will be the passing game. Utah passed the ball 29 times and ran it 21 — and some of those 21 were to bleed the clock late in the game. Tight end Dalton Kincaid was fantastic, catching four passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Solomon Enis was also productive, with four catches for 62 yards and a score, while tight end Brant Kuithe had three catches for 44 yards. Britain Covey had an unusually quiet game with 14 yards on four catches, while running back Micah Bernard got involved in the throw game with three catches for 41 yards.
Running back Tavion Thomas looked to establish himself as RB1, carrying the ball 12 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound back looked good, gaining yards after contact and running tough, though he did fumble the ball.
“You can’t put the ball on the ground, so that was the big downside of it. But he did show a taste and a little bit of a glimpse of what he is capable of. We will look at the film and grade it hard and come up with a pecking order,” Whittingham said.
Bernard looks to be RB2, finishing with six carries for 35 yards.
The offense definitely has room to improve. Whittingham brought a list to the postgame press conference, reading off what he thought the offense (and special teams) could improve on.
“We gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown. We dropped a touchdown pass. We had to burn a timeout before a field goal because we only had 10 guys out there. We dropped two more balls. We missed a PAT after a delay of game. We have a whole laundry list of stuff to work on this week. It will keep us busy. As coaches and players, we have to be better next week,” Whittingham said.
Two potential touchdowns were dropped by TJ Pledger and Cole Fotheringham, both good passes from Brewer. Thomas had a fumble. Utah didn’t open the playbook very much, as expected, and the biggest play of the night yardage-wise was a 35-yard pass from Brewer to Kincaid. The Utes were not great in the red zone — kicking two field goals and turning the ball over on downs once. Whittingham said the offensive line didn’t play well enough — though projected starters Jaren Kump and Sataoa Laumea were out, according to the participation report.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd will be an NFL draft pick in 2021.
Lloyd was the star of the show for the Utes on Thursday. He led the team in tackles with 12 (two for loss), had a sack, forced a fumble and came down with a diving interception. He has consistently showed up for the Utes, and did so again on Thursday with an outstanding performance.
Clark Phillips III also turned in an excellent game. He was great in coverage and had six tackles. He also should be credited for an assist for heading the ball Lloyd’s way on the interception.
Devin Lloyd will play on Sundays pic.twitter.com/v6JUQR9LEK— James Fragoza (@JamesFragoza) September 3, 2021
Utah’s first-team defense allowed only three points — the other 14 points came on a kickoff return and a touchdown allowed by the second-team defense in the fourth quarter. The Utes were able to sack Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron three times and came away with two turnovers. Utah held the Wildcats to just 57 yards of rushing. All in all, it was a pretty successful game for Utah’s defense.
But, like the offense, there’s still room for improvement. Whittingham wasn’t happy with the 64% accuracy by Barron and the 213 passing yards allowed. He also didn’t like that the Utes allowed a 17-play, 74-yard drive down the field, though it ended with a good goal-line stand by Utah. There were a probably a few more converted third-and-longs converted by Barron than the Utes would have liked.
“The (secondary) made some plays. Their quarterback completed too many balls, though. He was nearly 65%, but we did come away with the interception on the tipped ball. Devin (Lloyd) made a great play there. We have to get better in the secondary. It’s not just them, it’s the under coverage as well,” Whittingham said.
Jadon Redding made two field goals — 31 yards and 25 yards — and Covey had a nice 34-yard punt return where he made something out of nothing, running all the way across the field and making some cuts.
That’s where the positives end.
There were a whole lot of uncharacteristic negatives from Utah’s special teams unit. Start with the 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Rashid Shaheed. No Ute was even close after his first cut.
Add in two mistakes were made by the PAT team — on one PAT, personnel confusion forced Whittingham to take a timeout. On another, a delay of game on a PAT led to a missed PAT by Redding after the penalty.
Utah’s normally solid special teams did not look the part on Thursday.
The Utes need to get some things cleaned up during the week before heading to Provo. Utah has talent and a solid foundation. Brewer looks like the real deal, Thomas looks like another good Utah running back and Kincaid has emerged as another great tight end option for the Utes. If the receivers can get a better handle on the ball and the offensive line can get Kump and Laumea back before the BYU game, the offensive line should be improved.
There’s plenty to like on defense. Lloyd and Phillips look fantastic, Utah’s defensive line and secondary look pretty good, and the defense as a whole is another good Utah defense.
Special teams absolutely needs to get the mental mistakes cleaned up.