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SALT LAKE CITY — As much as University of Utah students are already probably wishing that it was time for their grades to be handed out by their professors, it’s not. Sorry. But it is time to hand out some grades for the Ute football team as they enter their bye week this weekend.
Quarterback. Jordan Wynn’s shoulder surgery has clearly restricted his range of motion and changed his throwing motion. This was evident by his bad performance against Montana State the first week of the season. However, since then he has turned in two solid performances against far better competition (although many BYU fans are currently wondering if they would compete with Montana State). Wynn is looking much better in the areas he can control, most notably his downfield accuracy and his poise in the pocket. There’s not a lot of talent left, but he showed grit against BYU. Enough for a B-.
Offensive backfield. John White IV has clearly established himself as the starting running back. In fact, most Ute fans have forgotten that it was somewhat of a question entering the Montana State game. If it weren’t for cramps at USC, White IV could have three 100-yard games this season. White’s strong performances this season have led the Utes to an average of 171 yards rushing per game. The only thing keeping this unit from an A is its unexpected lack of depth, but White IV is good enough to earn it an A-. Wide Receivers/Tight Ends. This group is turning into one of the fastest and most talented receiving corps in the conference. The core of DeVonte Christopher, Dres Anderson and Reggie Dunn has taken the receivers to the next level. Norm Chow’s offense will continue to utilize the tight ends, which will provide more nights like Jake Murphy’s at BYU. Luke Matthews has yet to become the offensive playmaker that many thought he would, but expect that to change. There is a lot of depth at the position too, which is why no one has really established themselves as Wynn’s favorite target (although it is probably Christopher). Wynn has spread the wealth among his receivers and tight ends, which just makes this group even more dangerous and worthy of an A-.
Offensive Line. If it could stay healthy, this unit was supposedly a strength for the offense heading into the season. However, it is has produced more questions as the season has ensued. The O-line missed fundamental pass rushing schemes the USC defensive line threw at them. However, they gave Wynn all sorts of time at BYU and have been a big reason White IV has been able to establish himself as one of the conference’s most exciting running backs. The leader of this unit, Tony Bergstrom, is now injured and questionable for the Washington game, and that would be a tough loss to sustain. The holes they’ve opened up for White IV and the injuries they’ve dealt with fairly well overcome their disappointing performance at USC for a B-.
Overall offense. Obviously, Utah's offense was a major concern after the Montana State game. The passing game was classified as abysmal by head coach Kyle Whittingham, and there were still many question marks heading into the USC game. However, most of those questions have been answered. Wynn’s arm is not 100 percent, but it is serviceable. The receivers are talented and deep. If White IV and the offensive line can stay healthy, they will combine for great things. So much relies on Wynn, but the supporting cast has stepped up nicely and should continue to do so. Good for a B.
Defensive Line. This unit overwhelmed the Cougars last week but let USC run for 152 yards. Anchored by Star Lotulelei, the interior of the D-line stops the run as well as anyone in the conference. Meanwhile, on the edges, Derrick Shelby and Trevor Reilly proved this past week that they can create pressure on the quarterback with the best as well. This unit only gave up 11 yards rushing to BYU and will keep the Utes in every game they play in 2011. The bad game at USC was overcome by the overwhelming performance against BYU last week. Good enough for an A.
Linebackers. Brian Blechen has made a near-seamless transition from safety to linebacker. He is constantly around the football and is starting to remind Ute fans of a bigger Eric Weddle. Not bad company. The experience that Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez bring to this unit is a big reason why the Utes’ defense is holding opposing teams to 14 points per game. I can’t find anything in their play to give this unit anything less than an A.
Defensive backfield. One word: fast. This unit is young but makes up for mistakes with sheer speed. They may not be on the level of the Alabamas and the LSU's of the world, but they are certainly in the ballpark, even if it’s the Polo Grounds. The two corners, Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy, have shut down deep threats on the outside with the exception of the Cody Hoffman touchdown last week (seriously, name one other deep ball they’ve been beaten on). Eric Rowe is a freshman that will be talked about in these parts for a long time, but in the meantime Keith McGill will roam centerfield with speed to rival Jacoby Ellsbury. If it weren’t for the pockets over the middle that opponents (especially USC) have been finding quite easily, this unit would also be getting an A, but the speed covers up any mistakes born of youth. B+.
Overall defense. The Ute defense is the best defense in the Pac-12, which is not saying a whole lot considering that the Pac-12 has traditionally been considered a weak defensive conference. However, this defense is fast and talented. Kalani Sitake is one of the best defensive coordinators at dialing up pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and the talent in the defensive backfield will only get better with experience. A-.
Coaching. Ute fans wanted Norm Chow’s head after game one. Some even speculated (probably drunkenly) on sports call-in shows that Chow had engineered some sort of plan to spend the decade meandering his way through the coaching ranks to come back to Utah and conspire to ruin the Utes’ offense for BYU, where his loyalties still lie. Amidst that temporary insanity, the Utes’ coaching staff trusted its experience and led its team through much more than outside pressure from fans and critics. Whittingham and his staff somehow kept their team focused after losing the wife of defensive lineman Ron Tongaonevai to a tragic car accident. Now fans are admitting that Chow knew what he was doing all along when he showed nothing to USC or BYU in the Montana State game. He has also done a great job patiently molding Wynn into a much more confident quarterback than we saw in week one. The panic-fest at the end of the USC game keeps the coaches in a B-range, but I’ll go with a B+.
Special teams. Coleman Peterson looked great against Montana State, but terrible against BYU. Given his reaction on the sidelines last Saturday, Whittingham expects the problems at BYU were mental and fixable. The return game is solid and Ute fans should expect big plays from Reggie Dunn over the course of the season. The blocked field goal at USC didn’t help with this grade, so I’ll give them a C.
Overall team. Despite their pounding of BYU at Lavell Edwards Stadium last week, the Utes still have work to do. The offense is getting better, but that’s not hard to do after the game one performance we all saw. Classic undersell, Coach Chow. Well done, sir. The defense will keep Utah in every game they play, giving their offense a chance to make a play to win the game — something they are very capable of doing with Anderson, Christopher, Dunn and White IV. The very experienced coaching staff is proving to be a huge asset to this team, and the Utes can and should be in the hunt to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game. B.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". To check out more blogs, go to trevorstoptens.com