SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – I was telling my friends prior to the game that only one possible scenario would have surprised me going into Utah’s matchup with the Oregon Duckies on Saturday.
I was not expecting Utah to win in a blowout. What a night.
Seems like every time I sit in the press box for a big college football game this year, something happens that completely catches me off guard. Sure enough, as fate would have it, I was left surprised by a 38-7 Utah victory over Oregon.
I’m going to hold off on the commentary on what was being worn by the media in the box for this game, I don’t want Provo-based radio host who will remain nameless blowing up my Twitter feed again. All I’ll say about that is once again, Salt Lake City-based radio host, Sean O’Connell, dressed much better than how I’d imagine that other guy would have dressed in the press box. That’s it. I like OC’s style much more. And the fact that his followers don’t annoy me on Twitter for hours on end. That’s all.
Anyways, here are my thoughts from watching Utah’s biggest win of the year, and biggest win over a ranked opponent at home ever:
’09 Sugar Bowl vibes
To me, this game had unmistakable similarities to the 2009 Sugar Bowl when Brian Johnson and the boys surgically, quickly, and shockingly took a gigantic 21-0 lead on Alabama in the first quarter.
This game, which featured a team supposedly considered the third-best in the country by the College Football Playoff committee, seemed to be a throwback to that bowl game down in the bayou over a decade ago. It didn’t seem like Alabama could hand with the Utes then and likewise, Oregon couldn’t keep pace with Utah in 2021. The Utes were physical and fearless on offense, converting on 8-of-10 third downs in the opening half and pretty much kept the game out of reach nearly the entire time.
Utah’s defense was also very stingy, quickly forcing punts and getting the red-hot offense back on the field as soon as possible.
The Utes are playing their best football at the right time and this season, which has had more than its fair share of tragedy, could have a very magical ending in Pasadena.
I think that a trip to the Tournament of Roses is pretty possible at this point.
The Utes’ special teams are remarkably unUtahlike and unspecial
Is unUtahlike a word? Well, whatever, it is now. This has been a common theme and point of frustration for most Ute-faith this year. It’s well deserved. The punting game, in particular, is atrocious this year, a far cry from the dominant era of Tom Hackett and Mitch Wishnowski sending booming punts down the field, pinning opponents deep in their own territory.
Apologies for being harsh, but the Ute punting game sucks and it’s bizarre to watch in person. I checked the Net Punting stats shortly after Race Mahlum mustered just a 36-yard, fourth-down punt, with no wind, mind you. The stats show that Utah has been one of the worst punting teams in the country, ranking 116th out of 130 FBS teams.
Mahlum’s punt at that moment, as poor as it seemed for Utah, was actually pretty par for the course for the ’21 Utes, who were averaging 35.8 net yards per punt. While net yards are the difference between punted and returned distance, the numbers suggest Utah’s horrid average net punting figures are almost entirely to blame on the punters themselves. For the season, computing just the punted distance, the revolving door of Ute punters who are sending punts just 38.4 yards per boot this season. The opponents don’t even have the time to set up their blockers by the time the ball gets to them, so that’s good, I guess.
It’s quite odd to see, the Utes have had it so good for so long.
Britain Covey bookends electric performances against Oregon
A million years ago, way back in 2015, Britain Covey burst onto the scene as a freshman at Utah with a major role in the Utes’ 62-20 thrashing of Oregon in Eugene.
In case you don’t remember, which would be totally understandable since it’s been so long, Covey scored two touchdowns, the first a 26-yard TD pass from Travis Wilson (we should really do a column on him sometime soon, I contend ‘Baby Giraffe’ might be the most unappreciated and disrespected athlete in Utah sports history but that’s another story for another day), the second came on a 25-yard pass from running back Devontae Booker. To many Utah fans, that was the game that put Covey on the map as a legitimate game-breaking talent.
Well again, that was at least 25 lifetimes ago, or so it seems. Yet, once again, Covey as the oldest junior year college football player of all-time, took Oregon to task with a 78-yard punt return as the clock ran down at the end of the first half to give Utah a 28-0 halftime leave.
Oregon fans will be seeing Covey in their nightmares for years to come. At least they’ll always think fondly of Kaelin Clay.
Whittingham solidifies his place as the greatest coach in Utah history
Kyle Whittingham is the greatest head coach to ever grace the sidelines for the University of Utah. That’s inarguable at this point. The victory on Saturday broke his tie with Ike Armstrong, who coached the Utes for a quarter-century, as the winningest coach in school history.
It gave me chills to see him secure his place in the record books in such a convincing and celebratory fashion.
Whittingham has taken Utah to new heights and if he does ride off into the sunset and retire at the end of the season, as has been rumored as a possibility, I’m cool with that. I’m happy for him, I marvel at his accomplishment, and I appreciate who he has been as one of the anchors of Utah’s sports scene for the last two decades.
Above all, he has always been so cool to my dad, who I know enjoyed covering every game of the first 15 years of his career at Utah. Hats off, Kyle. You’re the greatest Utah Man of all time.