When the Utah Utes are hot, they’re very hot. When they’re not, they’re not. Utah is currently sitting in the top spot in the Pac-12 South and, although they have an identical conference record to Southern Cal, they have a better overall record and they also hold the tie-breaker. In four of their five wins this season, the Utes have put up more than 40 points on their opponents, but only 7 points against Washington and only 24 points against Washington State in their two losses.
The Utes are coming off a hot game against the Trojans with a decisive 41-28 victory at home. While I love my Bruins and I truly believe UCLA is the most prolific athletic institution in the world, I panic when I see that our crosstown rivals lost handily to our next opponent.
Let’s pick apart this offense and see if we can poke any holes in their playbook.
Junior Tyler Huntley is currently the engineer of the Ute offense. He has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games. Huntley has a 65% completion percentage with only three interceptions. That’s good enough for 50th in the country. He averages just over 12 yards per completion while also being the second best rusher on the Ute offense with 376 yards in 91 attempts. His passing efficiency is just over 147, which puts him in the middle of the Pac-12 quarterbacks.
Huntley is clearly a dual-threat quarterback, which sticks out to me because of the Bruins’ inability to stop the run last week. He put up a career high 341 yards and four touchdowns last weekend against a defense that, in most respects, is better than UCLA’s. He looks comfortable both passing and rushing to a slide and has the Ute offense more under control than he has in his entire career. After spotting 14 points to Southern Cal, Huntley and the Ute offense came roaring back, putting up 34 unanswered points that would eventually propel them to the win.
Huntley is definitely on a hot streak right now, as is the entire Ute football team. He, along with two other Ute players, swept Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors last year for their performance against Southern Cal.
When it comes to quarterback protection, the raw numbers don’t vary much from UCLA’s own sack numbers. Utah has allowed 20 sacks in seven games, which averages out to just under three, while the Bruins have allowed 21. This could explain all the rushing yards Huntley amasses in a game, but they definitely are not at a loss for experience. Four of the five front men are upperclassmen, including seniors Jackson Barton, Lo Falemaka, and Jordan Agasiva. Falemaka is actually playing in his sixth year of eligibility, due to the fact that he missed most of the 2015 season after being shot in the hip at a party. He was, in fact, trying to help a woman and took a bullet in the process, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. He has been through a lot and is incredibly thankful to still be playing for the Utes, battling injuries last year and this year. He was injured while the Utes were playing against Washington three weeks ago, but he is healthy and back in the lineup. It’s no surprise that he is also on the Rimington Award Watch list for 2018.
Redshirt freshman Nick Ford is listed at left guard next to Barton and is a guy that does whatever he needs to for his team. He has played three different positions this year—he began the year playing left guard and then moved to right tackle against Washington. When Falemaka got hurt, he moved to center for the Washington State game. Darrin Paulo will round out the group at right tackle. Except for Falemaka who’s listed weight is 295, each member of this unit is over 300 pounds.
Utah’s top wide receivers are a corps of underclassmen. Sophomores Britain Covey and Samson Nacua and juniors Siaosi Mariner and Demari Simpkins will all see action on Friday, with Covey leading the team with 484 yards and averaging just under 70 yards per game. Covey is actually a former high school quarterback and he’s 2 for 2 on passes this year, one of which was caught by Huntley and taken to the house for a touchdown. Ten different receivers have recorded touchdowns for the Utes, which means that Huntley has a wide variety of targets to choose from.
Junior Zack Moss is the number one man for the Utes and is currently sitting at second in the Pac-12 and 13th in the country for yards per game. He has 753 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games, which puts him ahead of big Pac-12 names like Myles Gaskin of Washington and Berkeley’s Patrick Laird. Moss had the longest rush by a Pac-12 running back this year against Weber State, which was an 86-yard run, and he has had two games with multiple touchdowns.
Junior Armand Shyne is third on the team behind Moss and Huntley in rushing with 136 yards in 29 carries. Moss is clearly the man to be stopped on Friday.
The decline we saw in the Bruin defense last week gives me every reason to worry. When you consider Huntley’s hot streak coupled with Moss’s through-the-roof statistics, it doesn’t looking good. But, with a new system in place, it’s hard to know what kind of team will come out on the field each week. UCLA definitely held their own with Washington. So, clearly they are capable of not getting demolished in this game.