by Justin Adams | The Utah Utes played their most complete football game of the season on Saturday, taking down previously undefeated Colorado 38-21. What changed for Utah?
As I’ve been keeping my own game stats throughout this season, I’ve been trying to keep track of what kind of personnel Utah is running on each play (how many RB’s, WR’s and TE’s).
As a disclaimer, I’ll say this is a hard metric to track with how Utah shifts players around pre-snap, combined with the fact that sometimes the broadcast cuts back to the field camera right as the ball is snapped. Consequently, I’ll miss a play here or there so take these numbers more as approximations.
The most common personnel grouping they’ve used this season has been 1 RB, 2 WR’s and 2 TE’s. Against Washington and Oregon State, they used formations with this personnel on over 50% of plays. However, against Colorado they started to noticeably run more plays with 3 or 4 WR’s on the field, and ended up with a very balanced distribution of formations.
I believe this is the key to Utah’s offense finally starting to click.
The Utes ran 16 plays in which they utilized 1 RB, 2 TE’s and 2 WR’s. Five of those were pass plays, of which Bentley completed one pass for 9 yards. On the remaining 11 running plays, they averaged less than a yard per carry.
It might have been during halftime that Utah’s offensive staff realized this formation was not accomplishing what they hoped it would because Utah ran play with 3 or 4 wide receivers on their first 9 plays of the second half.
At the end of the game, they had run 20 plays with 1 RB and 4 WR’s. Those plays averaged 6.8 yards.
Plays which utilized 1 RB, 3 WR’s and 1 TE averaged over 12 yards per play. Yes, you read that right. Not only did it work for the passing game (Bentley was 3 for 4 for 42 yards) but it also produced Ty Jordan’s best runs of the day. His runs of 66, 35, and 18 yards all came on plays featuring 3-WR sets.
Figuring out why one of these personnel sets is much more effective than another is a job for someone with more X’s and O’s knowledge than myself. However, one theory I have is that Jake Bentley is much more comfortable in these formations. Looking up highlights of his days at South Carolina, just about every play had 3 or 4 WR’s.
Whatever the reason for the success is, I hope we’ll see the team running 3 or 4 WR sets on a much larger percentage of their plays going forward.
If you’ve been following this column, you know I’ve been continuously harping on the weird distribution of touches on the Utah offense. Well, this was the week that Utah finally reached some level of balance when it comes to getting the ball to all three skill positions on offense: RB, WR and TE.
Led by Britain Covey, the WR’s had a total of 15 touches, which is about 3x as many as they’ve been averaging so far this season.
It’s also interesting to note how much the RB touches have been consolidated since Week One. Against USC, Jordan Wilmore and Devin Brumfield accounted for 15 of the Utes’ 28 carries. Against Colorado, neither one recorded a single touch. Instead, Ty Jordan and Micah Bernard (both freshmen) have completely taken over the backfield. Could Utah have the same 1-2 punch at running back for the next 3-4 years?.
- Covey becomes the 7th Ute to record 9+ catches in a single game and the first since Jaylen Dixon’s 9 grabs against Northwestern in 2018.
- Covey also had 132 combined yards of punt and kick returns, which resulted in Utah having an average starting field position of the 38-yard line.
- In his first four games, Jordan is averaging more yards per carry (7.2) than Zack Moss, Devontae Booker, Joe Williams or John White. If you project that average through a whole season (the average number of carries in a year for Utah’s lead back since joining the PAC-12 is 231), Jordan would be on pace to gain 1,663 yards, which would be a school record.
- Obviously playing Colorado the last week of the season results in some pretty brutal cold-weather contests that don’t favor the passing game, including this year. It’s worth noting that Bentley’s 240 passing yards is the second-most against Colorado since Utah joined the PAC-12, with the average being 187.
- For just the second time since joining the PAC-12, Utah didn’t get called for a single penalty against Colorado (The other occurrence was last year against Washington State).
Featured image courtesy David Zalubowski | Associated Press