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SALT LAKE CITY — One thing is for sure this week: As easy as the Utes made it look last week against BYU, this week should be an even more sure thing against B-Y-E. Although the bye week can be more of a detriment to some teams, it has treated the Utes well since Kyle Whittingham has taken over as head coach.
Under Whittingham, Utah is 11-1 coming off of bye weeks or off weeks, the lone loss coming to Boise State in last year’s Vegas Bowl. During the regular season, Whittingham’s Utes have never lost a game after a bye. That does not bode well for Washington, who comes into Rice-Eccles stadium next week.
The Utes have weathered their early-season tests, competing well at USC and rolling over BYU in Provo. Now, however, Utah enters the heart of their Pac-12 schedule. The Utes will host Washington the week after the bye and then welcome Arizona State to town in what many experts are saying will be the matchup for the de facto Pac-12 South Division title.
If the Utes can beat Arizona State, they are set up pretty well for a run to the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, but they can’t rest easy. There are no longer any Colorado States or UNLV’s on the schedule. In what would amount, essentially, to a near-meaningless game, Utah would have to travel to Pittsburgh after the Arizona State game. That cross-country trip would be followed by a trip to the opposite coast at California. The next toughest test on the schedule would be a trip to Arizona on Nov. 5. The Utes’ other games include home games against a hapless Oregon State squad, a confused UCLA club and a rebuilding Colorado team. The only other road trip would be to Pullman, Wash., to play a (insert insulting yet apt adjective here) Washington State team.
Washington has scored a lot of points this year, but their defense is giving up a lot too. Utah’s defense should be able to stifle the Huskies offense, although the normally stout Nebraska D could not do so last week. That said, quarterback Jordan Wynn and the Utes’ offense will need to put up some points to beat Washington and set the stage for the Arizona State game.
Arizona State is fast and will test the Utes in a way they have not been tested this year. USC has just as much speed as the Sun Devils, if not more, but Arizona State uses it more through a much better utilized downfield passing attack. Arizona State’s quarterback, Brock Osweiler, will stretch the young Ute secondary unlike anyone they will see all year. The Sun Devils are definitely beatable, however, as proven by a very mediocre Illinois team last week.
If Ute fans would have been told that, three weeks into their season, they would be 2-1 having been a field goal away from pushing USC to overtime in L.A. and having beaten their rivals down south by more than six touchdowns, they would take it — and they should.
It's clear that Wynn’s shoulder surgery has severely limited his range of motion and altered his throwing motion. The more pressing problems after the first two games for the Ute quarterback included his unwillingness to stay in the pocket under light pressure and his fear of stepping into throws. Those problems are both controllable, and it looks like they have both been taken care of after his solid performance at BYU last week.
While Chicken Littles are running around Provo, Ute fans are clamoring for attention. Indeed, the story after last Saturday’s throttling should be the throttler (at least a little bit) instead of the throttlee. The Cougars definitely gave away many opportunities in the rivalry game, but they didn’t give away the game itself. Utah was the better team and would have won even if BYU had only turned it over a couple of times (which is half as many turnovers as the Utes forced, none of which they are getting credit for). Certainly, it would not have been a 44-point win for the Utes, but the U on the mountain would have been flashing in red and white regardless of how many times the Cougars turned it over.
While dodging pieces of falling sky, people are forgetting that the Utes racked up nearly 500 total yards of offense, and it could have been more had BYU not turned it over in their own end so much — the Utes would have had more yardage to run over. Even if the offense hadn’t been moving the ball, you’re not going to lose many games when your defense gives up only 11 (not a typo) yards rushing all game.
For those who wondered if the Utes can compete for the Pac-12 South Division championship, the answer is yes. However, it is still to be determined if they can do so while being carried by an injured shoulder. If the defense continues to play at a pace that makes them the best defense in the Pac-12, Wynn’s Johnny Damon-like throwing motion won’t stop the Utes from being in the hunt.
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