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SALT LAKE CITY -- Coming off back-to-back losses against Pac-12 teams, the University of Utah looked to rebound against the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road. Although not a great performance by either team, the Utes manage to pull out a 26-14 win to help the team turn the season around.
Utah's defense is tough and deserves the credit for how good they are. The Panthers have a major threat in Ray Graham as running back, but the Utah defense managed to keep him to only 46 rushing yards, with the Pittsburgh defense only gaining 80 rushing yards for the day. Additionally, the defense made it extremely difficult for Pittsburgh quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Trey Anderson to make anything happen on the offense.
With the Utah offense seeing a little more time with the ball in their hands, the defense was able to rest and keep the energy and momentum moving. If not for the special teams meltdown by the Utes, the Panthers would have been scoreless Saturday.
Save Coleman Petersen, who was perfect at kicking four field goals with strong wind, there was nothing good about Utah's special teams Saturday. To start, Pittsburgh's only points came as a result of missed tackles, blown assignments and a blocked punt. Additionally, Utah had at least two opportunities to stop the ball before the end zone, giving Pitt little room to work with. However, Utah managed to force a touchback in both situations.
With an offense that is working to get better, the Utes can't afford to have special teams make such terrible mistakes. Expect the special teams to get a lot of attention in the upcoming week's practice.
For much of the game, Utah's offensive line was not giving Hays the protection he needed. Once again, missed tackles and blown assignments led to Hays being sacked six times. Although the Utes mostly ran the ball, Hays had little room to work with when trying to pass. If a bad Pittsburgh team is able to get to the quarterback that often, imagine what the remaining Pac-12 teams would do to the offensive line. There has been much better play by the Utes' offensive line in the past, but Saturday's effort was not good enough.
Utah continues to pile up the unnecessary penalties against teams. Against the Panthers, Utah had 10 penalties for a total of 97 yards, with senior John Cullen leading the team in penalties. As an experienced member of the Utes, Cullen should not be costing the Utes yardage because of his undisciplined play Saturday. As a leader of the team, Cullen should step up his game and help the other players. Instead, Cullen was to blame. Of course others players are to blame in this game, but a senior member of the team should know better.
Although a win, the game against Pittsburgh probably won't boost the confidence of Utes fans about the ability of their team. Winning every non- conference game is nice, but when the team is 0-3 in the Pac-12 things need to change. The offense played conservatively Saturday, putting much of the game in the hands of John White IV. The team did not have any turnovers, which is a positive aspect, especially given the prior weeks, but the offense is still not getting much production. Until the Utes can consistently put points on the board against Pac-12 teams, many will look at the Utes with a cautiously eye.