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SALT LAKE CITY -- Looking to turn around a less-than-impressive start to the season, the University of Utah traveled to Pittsburgh, beating the Panthers 26-14. The game was not pretty for either team, but a win on the road is a much needed jump to turning the season around.
Hays played conservatively Saturday, relying on the run game and John White IV to drive the offense. The strategy worked for the quarterback that threw three interceptions last week, but it doesn't mean the Utes are anywhere closer to an offensive threat. However, when Hays did throw the ball, he was fairly accurate, completing 14-of-23 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown.
Had Hays been given more protection throughout the game, it is likely he would have attempted more passing plays. Nevertheless, no turnovers from Hays is a good thing.
Running Backs/Full Backs: A
John White was Utah's offense Saturday. He took the hits and battled back, muscling through the defensive line for big plays. White continues to perform well against non-conference teams, but struggles when the opposing defense is better. White ended the day for 171 yards on 36 carries.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: B+
The Utes missed leading receiver DeVonte Chritopher Saturday. With the conservative play calling, Utah receivers saw little action. Dres Anderson led the team with 43 yards, with four receptions. Overall, the Utes receiving core managed 168 yards.
Offensive Line: D
There seems to be a trend with the defensive line lately. Missed assignments have led to the opposing team putting too much pressure on Hays. On Saturday, Hays was sacked six times, with little protection from his offensive line. Had the Utes needed to rely on the pass game, Utah would have struggled to put points on the board, with Pittsburgh's defense giving Hays little time to hit his receivers.
Additionally, penalties from the offensive line hurt Utah's offense.
Overall Offense: C
If not for the poor performance from the offensive line, Utah's overall offense would be in a better situation. But the fact remains, Utah needs more production on offense, especially in the red zone.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line was extremely tough Saturday, holding Pittsburgh's leading rusher Ray Graham to only 46 yards. The Utes forced the Panthers to punt the ball eight times, essentially stifling every Pittsburgh drive. Had special teams not given up two touchdowns, Pittsburgh would have been shut out. And much of the credit is a result of Utah's tough defense.
Additionally, Star Lotulelei, Joe Kruger and Derrick Shelby added to the six total sacks against Pittsburgh quarterbacks. Shelby also intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown.
The linebackers were essential in stopping many of Pittsburgh drives as well, putting pressure on quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Trey Anderson. Brian Blechen, Matt Martinez and Trevor Reilly all had a sack, adding to the six total sacks against Pittsburgh.
Defensive Backs: A
The defensive backs didn't get beat and put the pressure on receivers, giving little options to Sunseri and Anderson. Conroy Black also had the final interception to ultimately put the nail in the Pathers' hopes of a win.
Overall Defense: A
Entering Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, Utah's rushing defense was ranked 19th in the country. For the reasons mentioned above, Utah defense showed why they're a top-ranked defense.
Special Teams: D
Had it not been for Coleman Petersen's four field goals in strong winds, the special teams would have received an F. The special teams allowed the Panthers to take a quick 14-3 lead because of missed tackles, missed assignments and a blocked field goal. Additionally, the team struggled to stop nicely-planted punts. Saturday's performance was one of the worst performances by special teams all season.
Overall Team: C-
There is really nothing to be excited about in Saturday's game, save Utah's defense and a mark in the win column. Offensive production needs to get better, especially in the red zone where they need to capitalize on their momentum. Field goals were enough to beat a bad Pittsburgh team, but it will not be enough to beat Pac-12 teams.