An ugly win to say the least but the University of Utah did what they needed to in order to emerge with a victory against Baylor in Week 2.
Despite a handful of mistakes and waiting until the fourth quarter to make necessary adjustments, Nate Johnson was the spark the Utes needed to make the comeback official, and the defense did just enough for Utah to return to Salt Lake City 2-0 with everything still to play for.
“Nate Johnson came into the game and gave us a spark. That was the difference in the game,” Kyle Whittingham said.
Utah waited way too long to give Nate Johnson the reins
Let’s get this out of the way first. It took way too long to give Nate Johnson free reign and allow him to run the offense. I understand the two quarterback system was fine last week and probably would work well against Weber State this upcoming week, but Baylor was completely unphased and it took way too long to figure this out.
Early on, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig seemed to change out the quarterback every 2-3 plays and it didn’t allow either guy to get any rhythm. Passes were consistently underthrown, the Bears racked up multiple sacks and tackles for loss, and the offense was so easy to predict.
Enter Nate Johnson on the final two drives. He went 4-5 for 57 yards through the air, 6 first downs, and a 7 yard TD rush to cap off an 88 yard scoring drive to tie the game at 13. The offense had flow, they kept the defense honest, and there was no response from the Bears.
It took WAY too long for Utah to make the change and it nearly cost them the game. Luckily for Utah, the swagger from Johnso gave the offense some juice. That, combined with heroics from the running backs and a lockdown performance from the defense in the second half.
The defensive line really struggled
Surprisingly, the defensive line was not great today. Despite holding the Florida Gators to just 13 rushing yards a week ago, Baylor was a different animal and they didn’t have much of a problem creating gaps for the running backs, especially in the first half. Credit to the schemes of Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who is known for his rushing offense.
On multiple third downs, Baylor elected to run and it paid off as they moved the chains. One specific example was early in the first quarter on third and 12 from the Baylor six where Dominic Richardson proceeded to pick up 13 yards and a first down. Similarly in the second and facing a third and 10, Richardson again picked up a first and set the Bears up for a touchdown on the ensuing play.
Neither situation is acceptable, especially with how deep and talented the defensive line is. They had also returned their leader and standout, Junior Rafuna.
No sacks is also very uncharacteristic of this defense and will need to be evaluated before conference play. Although, they were able to dial up the pressure when they needed to.
Running backs stepped up and deserve credit
While it’s easy to focus on what Nate Johnson did late in that game, the running backs were really good against Baylor and deserve a ton of credit for the win.
Let’s start with Ja’Quinden Jackson. Despite going down multiple times and needing some attention, Jackson just kept fighting and posted an impressive 129 yards on 19 carries (6.8 average). Heroic showing by a player who refused to give up or be stopped.
As for Glover, he showed up late and carried the reins when Jackson needed a breather. His clutch runs down the stretch demonstrated a lot of maturity and he appears to be ready for a bigger role.
Also, that touchdown play was a pure stroke of genius. Delaying as long as possible before crossing the goal line, in the end, certainly impacted the outcome of the game.
Lastly, Whittingham made it official that Micah Bernard is out for the season with an unfortunate off-the-field injury. That’s a big blow to the offense, but the running backs stepped up in his absence today.
The offensive line was bad and undisciplined
Outside of a stagnant offense and an inability to support the run game early, penalties plagued the offensive line against Baylor.
Several holding penalties set the offense back and killed multiple drives. A completely unnecessary hold nearly kept Utah from scoring a touchdown in the last few minutes as Mokofisi held the last defender and the ball came all the way back to force a third and six.
More than once, they were called for holds that had no impact on a play, but they were holding penalties nonetheless.
With seven total penalties for 59 yards, most of which were holding calls against the offensive line, it was not a good outing for the guys upfront.
Ending this takeaway on a positive note, they did pave the way for Jackson to go over 100 yards and for Glover to average 5.7 yards per carry.
Utah’s defense was good when they needed to be
There were definitely some mistakes in the game and the defensive line was far from what you’d expect, but they still made big plays, got stops, and the leaders stepped up late when the offense needed some help.
For the second game in a row, Lander Barton and Cole Bishop played phenomenal. So, how fitting was it that Barton tipped the crucial turnover and Bishop picked it? Both only had four tackles each, while Bishop had two TFLs, but when they made plays, they were highly impactful.
Sione Vaki, Tao Johnson, Levani Damuni and Zemaiah Vaughn were others who had good performances. Vaki blew up a few plays and was second to only Damuni in tackles with 8. Tao Johnson snuffed out a few plays and forced a big failed third down conversion late by reading the quarterback’s eyes and jumping a route to cause an incompletion. Damuni was a tackling machine and Vaughn’s pick was a huge momentum shift.
Utah’s defense kept them in this game after some early adjustments stymied the Bears.