Utah’s ‘NASCAR’ offense puts the pedal to the metal in 55-3 win over Arizona State
Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig deployed the “NASCAR series,” the uptempo offense the Utes found success in last week, and Utah zoomed past Arizona State
Utah found something in last week’s 35-6 loss to Oregon.
The Utes’ most successful drive of the game last Saturday against the Ducks came at the end of the first half, when Utah went up tempo, going 53 yards in 1:22 for a field goal.
Quarterback Bryson Barnes thrived in the two-minute drill, completing four passes in a row to start the drive, then throwing it to Devaughn Vele for an 18-yard completion later in the drive for a crucial first down on fourth-and-1.
Though Barnes had two incompletions in the red zone and Utah had to settle for a field goal, it was clear offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig had found something.
Utah didn’t really go back to that up tempo offense again versus Oregon, but Ute coach Kyle Whittingham indicated on Monday that Utah fans may see more of it against Arizona State.
“Possibly,” Whittingham said. “... That was probably our, I don’t think probably, that was our best drive of the game. We probably should take a look at that and we have used that in the past and would’ve probably been a good idea to go to it more in the second half.”
The name for that two-minute drill, hurry-up offense is the “NASCAR series,” Ludwig said in an interview with ESPN 700’s Bill Riley this week, saying that Utah may mix that in during a future game.
Ludwig, the offensive coordinator for Utah’s undefeated 2008 team, referenced the times that team employed the up tempo offense. The Utes shocked Alabama to start the 2009 Sugar Bowl with a five play, 68-yard drive that took just 1:19 off the clock and featured five straight completions from Brian Johnson.
On Saturday, Utah came of the gate with the pedal to the metal, deploying the “NASCAR series” on its first drive of the game.
“We had them on their heels a little bit. We haven’t shown that a bunch this year and they seemed to not handle it very well so we kept at it,” Whittingham said.
“Sometimes the altitude jumps on teams here and that could have been a part of it as well, but we certainly got a lot of mileage out of that (up tempo offense) today and that was a big part of our offensive success.”
The Utes streaked 72 yards down the field in eight plays and 3:18, going hurry-up.
Five passes, five completions from Barnes.
Vele, who had his best game of the season against Oregon, snagged three receptions in the drive, including the 11-yard touchdown in which he was absolutely wide open.
“We practice it every single week. It’s a situation in which I feel like we do well in and we strive to continue to do well in because especially in crunch time situations, it’s good to be able to just get on the ball and just keep moving,” Vele said.
“Being able to utilize that and implement it into just our regular game plan and just doing it anytime, whether it’s the beginning of the first quarter or it’s two minutes left in the second quarter, it is just good to see that the guys are always ready and we’ve seen what can happen when we do get into that quick tempo offense.”
The Utes didn’t go no-huddle as often on the next drive, but the offense went 65 yards in eight plays, taking 3:38 off the clock to go up 14-0 eight minutes into the game.
Ja’Quinden Jackson had some big holes to work, running for 30 yards on the series, including a 16-yard run on the second play of the drive. Barnes finished off the series with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Vele, his second of the day.
When all was said and done, Utah zoomed by Arizona State 55-3 on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium in a complete role reversal of last week’s contest.
Barnes threw for a career-high four touchdowns, going 19 for 28 for 161 yards. He also added 56 rushing yards on seven carries, 48 of which came on Utah’s fourth drive of the game when Ludwig dialed up four quarterback keepers.
The junior quarterback just keeps getting more and more comfortable out there.
“I feel like obviously the more game reps you get, the more comfortable you’re going to be able to be able to play and the more game plans you’re preparing for as well. It’s all a rep thing,” Barnes said.
Whittingham strolled into the postgame press conference wearing a “That’s My Pig Farmer” t-shirt in reference to his signal caller.
Vele, who had his breakout game of the season against Oregon, built on that performance with a game-high two touchdown receptions, totaling 56 yards on seven catches. Landen King had his first multi-catch game, totaling four receptions for 43 yards and a score.
Jackson looked as explosive as he has all season, carrying the ball 13 times for 111 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown.
However, as Jackson was tackled in the end zone on the score in the early third quarter, an Arizona State defender fell on his right leg and he had to be helped off by teammates, avoiding putting pressure on that right ankle, which has given him problems all season, dating back to fall camp.
He eventually slowly made his way to the locker room and was done for the day.
“We’ll see how he responds. He’s a warrior and he keeps coming back, but it just keeps recurring. They fell on the ankle in the end zone. He’s been battling that for essentially the whole season and just trying to muster through it,” Whittingham said.
Of note was Jaylon Glover’s performance against Arizona State. Sione Vaki — who “wasn’t feeling up to par” last week, per Whittingham — played safety, but didn’t touch the ball on offense Saturday, which opened up more playing time for the sophomore running back.
With the Utes’ offense rolling, there was no need to risk anything with Vaki, including giving opponents more game tape on the two-way star.
Glover toted the ball a team-high 14 times for 64 yards, looking especially good on a pair of 14-yard gains in the second quarter.
Utah ran for 352 yards and three touchdowns, the second time this year the Utes have crossed the 300-yard rushing yard mark. Charlie Vincent put the exclamation point on the performance with a 22-yard touchdown with eight seconds left in the contest.
The offensive line rebounded from its worst performance of the season, guiding the run game to its best showing of the year. The O-block was getting plenty of push on Saturday, opening up giant holes that made it easy for Utah’s running backs.
“I mean they were just alignment, assignment, technique,” Barnes said. “That’s kind of just how it rolls up there up front and I mean we got some bullies up there and so it was just definitely good to see us put up those type of running numbers.
“It’s all O-block. Running backs are definitely making plays but they ain’t getting anywhere without O-block pushing them up.”
Keep in mind that Arizona State only traveled with six scholarship offensive linemen, then went down to its fourth-string quarterback, former BYU QB Jacob Conover, after Trenton Bourguet was injured on the Sun Devils’ first series.
Even acknowledging all of that, holding a Power Five team under 100 yards — Arizona State had 83 total yards of offense — is very impressive.
Arizona State’s patchwork offensive line never stood a chance against Utah’s defensive front.
Bourguet and Conover were sacked a combined four times and were pressured relentlessly throughout the game. Conover threw an ill-advised across-the-body, across-the-field throw that Ole Miss transfer Miles Battle snagged for his first interception of the season.
The secondary stuck with the Sun Devils’ receivers all game — Arizona State had just 40 yards of passing and was at -1 passing yards through 26 minutes of game time — and Utah’s defense swallowed up talented running back Cameron Skattebo, who was held to just 31 yards of offense.
Jonah Elliss and Connor O’Toole were their regular selves, which meant a lot of impact along the defensive line. Elliss had 1.5 sacks and two pass breakups, and O’Toole had a sack.
Levani Damuni, who’s filled in for injured Lander Barton at linebacker, led the team in tackles with 11, and was part of a sack.
Freshman cornerback Smith Snowden got some meaningful run, teaming up with Damuni for a tackle.
Pretty much the only thing that didn’t go well on a picturesque November afternoon was special teams play.
If not for a 64-yard kickoff return that set Arizona State up at the 21-yard-line and resulted in a field goal, the Sun Devils may very well have been shut out.
Later in the game, a coverage breakdown on a punt led to what looked like Arizona State’s first touchdown, but it was called back due to holding on the Sun Devils.
“Had a couple of breakdowns today. The kickoff return obviously was a big downer and have to watch the tape. I think somebody got double-teamed and we lost a guy that was in open lane and we rotated the wrong way with a couple guys,” Whittingham said.
“And then on the punt our gunners got hung up. Our gunners, we rely on those gunners, those outside guys to go down and make the play. But the main thing wrong with that was we didn’t have any hang time on the punt. It was like a (3.5 second) hang. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Other than that, Utah throughly dominated Arizona State to set up a huge game against Washington in Seattle next week.
“Pretty good day ... it’s all positive right now,” Whittingham said.