Utah played a great first half, but let Oregon State back into the game in the fourth quarter before stopping the Beavers, down six, on their final drive to hang on for the win Saturday night.
Here are the grades from the Utes’ 30-24 win, their first victory of the season:
First, the positives.
The No. 1 biggest positive for Utah’s offense on Saturday night was no turnovers. After giving the ball up nine times in their first two games, the Utes had zero turnovers against Oregon State. Turnovers were the primary reason Utah lost to USC and Washington, and no turnovers against Oregon State was a key to victory.
Utah’s run game took another step forward against the Beavers, improving on the loss to the Huskies. Freshman running back Ty Jordan got the game ball in the locker room following the contest, and he deserved it.
Jordan had his breakout game, finishing the night with 167 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving. He also scored his first collegiate touchdown. Utah outgained Oregon State 229-133 on the ground, though the Beavers were missing star running back Jermar Jefferson, who was out due to COVID-19 protocol.
Jordan certainly didn’t look like a freshman playing the third game of his collegiate career, hitting holes and breaking tackles like a veteran. Jordan looks like he will be the featured back going forward for the Utes, as he got the majority of carries on Saturday — 27 of Utah’s 36 carries by running backs.
In the first half, the offensive line had its best performance of the season by far. Utah’s front was able to open up holes for the most part and had good pass protection, not allowing a sack the whole game.
The Utes were able to get the ball to their playmakers on offense for the first three quarters — Britain Covey and Brant Kuithe. Kuithe led Utah with eight catches and 76 yards receiving and Covey added four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. It was a big change from the last two games.
Speaking of Covey, the junior looks like his old self after missing all but four games of the 2019, when he redshirted due to a hamstring injury. Absent from the USC game and without a catch against Washington, Covey was electrifying again. He caught Utah’s only passing touchdown and returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown.
Now, the negatives.
Utah could have been en route to a blowout in the first half if quarterback Jake Bentley didn’t miss a wide-open Brant Kuithe on two separate drives, which would have led to touchdowns. Bentley overthrew Kuithe on Utah’s first and third drives and missed Cole Fotheringham on the second. If two of those are touchdowns instead of field goals, it’s a different game.
Utah 30, Oregon State 24
UTA, Jadon Redding 33-yard field goal (10:21)
UTA, Jadon Redding 20-yard field goal (6:50)
UTA, Jadon Redding 27-yard field goal (12:27)
OSU, Everett Hayes 33-yard field goal (9:16)
UTA, Ty Jordan 1-yard run (3:10), Jadon Redding kick
OSU, Calvin Tyler 1-yard run (0:50), Everett Hayes kick
UTA, Britain Covey 8-yard pass from Jake Bentley (6:22), Jadon Redding kick
UTA, Britain Covey 64-yard punt return (14:37), Jadon Redding kick
OSU, Calvin Tyler 6-yard run (11:50), Everett Hayes kick
OSU, Kolby Taylor 21-yard pass from Chance Nolan (5:07), Everett Hayes kick
“We didn’t score (touchdowns). We got field goals those first three trips in the red zone. Our ineptness in the red zone was a big issue early in the game,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “The game should have been put away at that point. To us, a field goal in the Red Zone is a loss. Our touchdown percentage in the red zone is not good enough.”
Though Bentley did improve from his prior two performances, he still wasn’t impressive. He finished 18-for-27 for 174 yards and a touchdown. The biggest improvement was his decision-making — zero turnovers. His most impressive drive came on a 14-play, 89-yard drive in the third quarter that saw him run for a first down on 3rd-and-3 and throw a touchdown pass to Covey.
Though it wasn’t as bad as the Washington game when the Utes blew a 21-0 halftime lead, Utah again didn’t have a great second half showing on offense. Utah scored just seven offensive points in the second half, on the aforementioned Bentley touchdown pass. Here’s how Utah’s second half offensive drives went: touchdown, punt (7 plays, 35 yards), punt (3 plays, -1 yard), turnover on downs (4 plays, 9 yards), punt (3 plays, 4 yards). That’s a total of just 47 yards on Utah’s last four drives. That’s unacceptable if you’re Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
The offensive line, great in the first half, couldn’t generate enough push for the run game — especially in short-yardage situations — and Bentley could only muster 33 yards passing. Excluding Covey, and with the caveat that Bryan Thompson was out, Bentley only found two wide receivers the entire game — Solomon Enis and Devaughn Vele, who combined for two catches for 10 yards.
“We just kind of got too vanilla and non-imaginative. We knew that we needed to milk the clock, but to have three three-and-outs in succession like we did, that’s unacceptable,” Whittingham said. “We also weren’t very good in the short-yardage situations. We should feel confident to be able to go for it on fourth-and-short. We have a good line. But I just don’t feel that way right now. We have to do better as coaches.”
The defense played good for the majority of the game, but some mistakes — especially in the fourth quarter, marred the performance.
Here are the positives.
Utah had possibly its best game yet getting to the quarterback, racking up three sacks, but it’s still not nearly as dominant as in years past. Taking into consideration that Oregon State was missing starting quarterback Tristan Gebbia — junior college transfer Chance Nolan made his first Division I start in his place — and leading rusher Jermar Jefferson — rush defense was solid — holding the Beavers’ running backs and Nolan, who is a dual-threat quarterback, to only 133 yards of offense.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd was a standout for the Utes, flying all over the field and making big hits. He had seven tackles (two for loss), a sack and a forced fumble. Cornerback JaTravis Broughton led Utah with nine tackles, Mika Tafua had a key sack on Oregon State’s final drive of the game, and Vonte Davis had an interception.
The defense pitched a shutout in the first quarter and allowed 10 points in the first half, all in all, a pretty solid performance.
Now, the negatives.
Penalties killed the Utes on defense. The Utes’ defense accounted for seven penalties (eight if you count Lloyd’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Covey’s punt return touchdown).
“We have a lot of things to correct. We had guys in the secondary playing the wrong coverage at times. I was really upset at that TD drive we gave up when we had four or five penalties. We have to be better than that,” Whittingham said.
On Oregon State’s first touchdown of the game near the end of the second quarter, Utah’s defense committed four penalties. Viane Moala had a personal foul for 15 yards, then Hauati Pututau committed another personal foul four plays later. Malone Mataele stopped Oregon State on 3rd-and-13 in the red zone, but was ejected for targeting and the Beavers got the first down, then scored a touchdown.
With seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Beavers facing 4th-and-10 at the Utah 31-yard line, down 30-17 with five minutes left, the Utes got the stop they needed, but it was negated by defensive holding. Oregon State scored a touchdown later on the drive to cut it to six points.
Utah’s defense did get the game-winning stop at the end, forcing the Beavers into a 3rd-and-15 from Utah’s 43-yard line after a sack by Tafua, and the Utes got the stop on 4th-and-8.
If not for an onside kick recovery for Oregon State, this group would have gotten high marks. Jadon Redding was 3-for-3 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points. Punter Ben Lennon wasn’t spectacular, with no punts inside the 20 and an average of 44 yards per punt, but he was solid. Covey made the best play of the game on special teams when he scored a 64-yard punt return touchdown. Covey looked like his old self on the return, evading a tackle and then turning on the jets, blasting through a tight space with three Oregon State defenders. After that, he was gone. It was his first punt return touchdown since 2015.
Utah’s special teams was caught sleeping in an onside kick situation, which brings the grade down. After Oregon State scored to make it 30-17 in the early fourth quarter, the Beavers surprised the Utes with an onside kick and recovered. Luckily for the special teams group, the resulting Oregon State drive went three-and-out.
Utah took an important step forward as a team on Saturday, winning its first game of the season. If the Utes clean up some of the mistakes made in the first half and play like they did in the majority of the first two quarters, Utah will be competitive when they close out the season against Colorado. The Utes have found their running back of the future in Jordan, and Covey looks like he’s back to his old self. Utah’s defense had its bright spots and is great at stopping the run.
But for most of the second half, Utes simply could not do anything on offense, which gave Oregon State life. Though he is eligible to come back next season because this year does not count for eligibility, so far Bentley is not the answer at quarterback moving forward into 2021.
Utah’s defense committed way too many penalties in key moments, which led to two Oregon State touchdowns, and overall, the defensive line is not as dominant as in years past.
Though it won’t be memorable, this season will pay off for the Utes down the line. Utah’s underclassmen are getting better and gaining experience.
With just one scheduled game remaining, Utah has to be at its best against undefeated Colorado if it wants to go .500 and qualify for a bowl game.