by Zach Reger | Last night, the Utes finally got to play their first game of the 2020 season. There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered heading into the season. While Ute fans do not have all the answers after just one game, they learned a lot in their 33-17 loss to USC.
They are Still Hurting from COVID-19
COVID-19 has affected every football team this year, but it has not harmed each program the same. The pandemic has debatably hit Utah the hardest as they had their first game in 326 days. That in itself is a difficult task, and unfortunately, they looked like a team that has not played in almost 11 months. They committed five turnovers in what was a slow and stagnant game for the offense. Rust was not the only thing that hurt Utah, however. After having two weeks of cancellations, their roster was still not at 100% yesterday. One of the biggest issues of the night for Utah was the offensive line. The running backs were consistently getting hit before they got to the line of scrimmage, and there were not many holes for them to run through when they had time. The offensive line was supposed to be a strong unit for the Utes offense, but many linemen had to sit this game out due to COVID-19.
Cam Rising Won the Starting Job
Perhaps the biggest question of the offseason was answered last night. Who would be the starting quarterback for Utah in 2020? The answer to that was Cam Rising… kind of. Cam Rising won the job and started the game for the Utes but left in the first half due to injury. Coach Whittingham valued accuracy above all other attributes, and Rising showed the most accuracy during practice. Before getting injured, Rising looked good for someone who was getting his first-ever collegiate start. He finished the game with three completions on six attempts for 45 yards and an interception. His biggest mistake came on the interception when he threw the ball too high for his running back on a screen pass. Luckily, no points were scored off of this mistake. Jake Bentley came into the game and threw for 171 yards on 16 completions. He threw one touchdown and 2 interceptions. Bentley struggled to get into a rhythm but showed flashes of what he was at South Carolina. Ute fans will have to wait to find out the severity of Rising’s injury before next week’s game.
Running Back by Committee
One thing is for sure: the Utes still want to run the ball. Part of the reason why neither quarterback got into a rhythm is that Utah was committed to establishing the run game. As expected, the Utes utilized a running back by committee approach in their first game. This will be an ongoing battle, but it will be interesting to see if OC Ludwig uses this approach for the rest of the season. The running back that stood out the most was true freshman, Ty Jordan. He looked like the most explosive back, and Utes fans will see a lot more of him than they probably expected this season. Jordan led the Utes in rushing in this game, going for 32 yards on seven carries. What really stood out was Ludwig finding creative ways to get him the ball. Jordan lined up all over the field and was in the slot for a good portion of the game, allowing other running backs to be on the field too. Devin Brumfield was second in rushing yards. He rushed the ball five times for 28 yards. He was bottled up in this one mostly, due to the lack of offensive line play. However, displayed great vision and power on his 22-yard run. The running game as a whole will look to improve next week.
The Defense Came to Play
Throughout the offseason, many fans believed that the offense would have to carry the defense this season. Even during the scrimmages, it was the offense that stood out, not the defense. That all made perfect sense, as the defense had to replace nine of their starters from last season. Surprisingly, against USC, the defense looked like the stronger side of the ball. One of the position battles was who would be the starting linebacker next to Devin Lloyd. Nephi Sewell answered that question for everyone last night. He scored the first touchdown of the season for the Utes with a scoop and score. He later got an interception to help Utah stay in the game. Sewell also had a total of 10 tackles, two of them being for a loss.
Sewell was not the only bright spot on the defense, however. The secondary had to replace all of their spots, and two true freshmen got to start. Clark Phillips III got picked on a lot, but he played well in his first collegiate start. He showed that he was not afraid to tackle as he finished the game with nine of them, one being for a loss. True freshman safety Nate Ritchie also played well despite getting picked on. He finished the game with four tackles. Overall, the defense had a mindset that they were going to do whatever it took to keep Utah in the game, and they succeeded. They played hard until there were double zeros on the clock.
Many questions were answered in the Utes first game, but there is still a lot that needs to be answered in this unusual season. Next week, Utah will look to improve and answer more questions against Arizona State on the road.
Featured image courtesy Deseret News