Utah kicked off conference play in mostly positive fashion Saturday afternoon in sunny Salt Lake City with 38-10 victory over UNLV. The victory propelled the Utes from #20 to #14 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll. However, despite that good news, Coach Kyle Whittingham still knows his team has plenty of work left to do. As the season progresses, coaches and fans alike learn more about this 2010 Utah squad. UteZone takes a look at what week two brought.
Terrance Cain is legit
Terrance Cain displayed poise, a willingness to be ready when called upon, and admirable selflessness in his first start after losing his starting job to Jordan Wynn last in 2009. Cain not only worked hard in the offseason to improve his passing ability, but also his ability to read defenses. After settling down from first game nerves, Cain managed the game well, avoiding turnovers and making plays both with his arm and his legs. An efficient Cain went 13-20, 207 yards. Cain's performance could be as important as anything else that happens through the course of the season for the Utes, especially if starter Wynn has to be kept out of multiple games.
Utah's defense bends, but doesn't break
While fans in the stands may have enthusiastically voiced their discontent with the Ute defense through much of the game, final game statistics paint a more accurate picture. The fact is that the Ute defense did not give a single offensive touchdown all day.
Omar Clayton is an elusive dual-threat quarterback who keeps his team in the game by avoiding sacks and scrambling out of pressure. Against a less mobile quarterback, many of Clayton's gains are converted to sacks, or at the very least, more incompletions, for the Ute defense.
On the day Clayton rushed for 39 yards, over one-third of UNLV's 102 total rushing yards. Clayton passed just well enough to keep the Utes honest on defense, something last week's opponent, Pittsburgh did not do. The result? UNLV with its more balanced offense only gained a total of 53 more yards against the Utes than Pittsburgh, something that netted them 14 fewer points overall.
Third-down conversions need work
The Utes seemingly allowed UNLV to convert third down conversion after third down conversion. However, it wasn't as bad as it seems. UNLV converted 45 percent of its third down conversions, or 9 or 20. The Utes, by way of comparison, also converted exactly 45 percent of the third down attempts, or 5 of 11. With two big special teams plays, the Utes were able to score without their offensive unit on the field. The net result was that the Rebels got off 79 offensive snaps versus the Utes' 48 total.
Additionally, seven of the nine UNLV third down conversions came off of two drives; their first scoring drive an 18 play, 9:19 minute effort which netted four third down conversions, and their last possession of the game in which they converted three of five third down conversions, three of which came after a Boo Anderson facemask penalty that negated a third down sack.
Clayton bought time with his feet on three separate third down conversions, ultimately completing passes to convert. While quarterback containment is a definite problem, the Utes will likely not face a more mobile quarterback in the 2010 schedule.
Penalties are still an issue
Although the Utes cleaned up the number of penalties somewhat, they are still committing costly, untimely mistakes. As mentioned above, a personal foul erased a 3rd down 10-yard-loss sack which would have ended a UNLV drive at the UNLV 12 yard line, instead giving them a first down at the 37 yard line.
A defensive substitution also gave the visiting Rebels another first down on a 3rd and 2 situation in the 2nd quarter as UNLV was marching down the field approaching the mid-field area. UNLV also declined a 5 yard offside penalty committed by the Utes which could have been another freebie for the Rebels had they not converted.
Offensive tackle John Cullen committed an extremely costly personal foul on a 2nd and 8 play, marching the Utes back to their own 24 and a 3rd and 19 scenario. The long penalty killed the drive, which ultimately resulted in the blocked punt for a UNLV touchdown, and the injury to starting punter Sean Sellwood.
Special teams needs consistency
Through two games, special teams play is a major issue for the Utes. Although Utah improved on punt and kick coverage in week two, it suffered another punt block. On the flip side, the team scored two touchdowns as a direct result of big special teams plays. Utah's ability to be consistent on special teams will have a big effect on the rest of the season.