Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
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What an atmosphere on the hill at Rice-Eccles Stadium Thursday night. More than 45,000 strong got into the game and stayed into it throughout - and they had to.
Kyle Whittingham spoke after the game about having a couple of goals for this game against the 15th ranked Panthers. Job number one was to keep Dion Lewis from getting 100 yards. Lewis had 25 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown. The Utah defense held him to three yards/carry. That was after his first carry of the game going for 17 yards. He also had 1 reception for 9 yards. Keeping Lewis contained - mission accomplished.
Utah fans have to be pretty happy to be where they are, 1-0, having beat the 15th ranked team in the country, and having played by my viewpoint, not very good. I am referring mostly to the offensive side of the ball. Utah gave the ball up 3 times. Shaky Smithson struggled mightily making two huge mistakes, the second being a punt that he shouldn't have gone after. The Utes also had 11 penalties for 99 yards. One penalty quickly comes to mind when right before the half, Wynn was leading the team for a possible 21-7 lead at the half and all the momentum a team could hope for. Zane Taylor was flagged for an illegal procedure that killed the drive. No penalties are good, but a penalty inside the red zone is frustrating.
Watching the Utes Thursday night and following them closely for the last few seasons, this is a familiar start to the season, fairly sloppy. Untimely penalties, getting punts blocked, dropping punts - the song remains the same. Fortunately, Coach Whit has been able to take these negatives and use them for teaching moments and make his team better. While this sounds like simple coaching, Kyle and his staff have thrived and made the adjustments necessary to become winners. One thing to watch in the next few weeks is if the messy mistakes get cleaned up. If the past holds true, the Utes could end up being a very good football team.
One real and exciting bright spot in the game against Pittsburgh had to be DeVonte Christopher. The entire off-season, the offensive side of the ball has been looking for one of the talented wide receivers to grab the other starting spot. Christopher had 8 receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown on a great crossing route that went 61 yards.
What was the story of the game? That's easy - true freshman Brian Blechen. At this time last year he had just played his second high school game of his senior year. I got a chance to see how special this kid might be when I was up at Rice-Eccles Stadium in early August for the Utes first practice of fall camp in full pads. After the practice ended, Blechen and safeties coach Morgan Scalley got back on the field and worked on technique for a few more minutes. Scalley told me he thought this kid had a chance to be really good. Coach Whittingham was quick to point out that Blechen didn't do everything correct Thursday night, but all of us saw why the Utes were willing to insert a true freshman into the starting lineup. What an interception!