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SANTA CLARA, California — The University of Utah closed out the season with a nail-biter 26-24 victory over Indiana Wednesday, claiming their ninth win of the season. The win also gives head coach Kyle Whittingham his 10th bowl victory in his tenure at Utah.
The following is a grading of Utah’s performance against Indiana.
It should come as no surprise that the Utes struggled in the red zone in its final game of the season. There was a lot of emphasis put into overcoming the red zone struggles in the three weeks of prep leading up to the game, but the changes didn’t result in a positive outcome. However, one positive was the presence of freshman quarterback Tyler Huntley, who was thrown into the game to give the Utes a different look.
Ultimately, the Utes got it done but it was mostly from the defense and special teams. Utah did put up 470 total yards on offense, but it was the explosive play of Joe Williams that was all the difference. Williams ended the night with 222 rushing yards and one touchdown and was the biggest impact player of the game. As a result, he was named the Foster Farms Bowl offensive MVP. It’s hard to imagine how the offense could get anything done if he was absence.
The defense was not perfect, but kept Indiana in check for much of the game. The defense forced three turnovers, including two key fumbles in the red zone and an interception by Marcus Williams. Pita Taumoepenu, who was a candidate for defensive MVP, finished the game with six total tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble and was a big disrupter of the Indiana offense.
Kavika Luafatasaga also had a big night against the Hoosiers and was great at sniffing out Indiana’s play calls. Luafatasaga led the team in tackles with 12, had two tackles for loss and one pass breakup that kept Indiana from scoring in the final seconds of the game.
Special Team: A-
Besides a fumble on the opening drive by Kyle Fulks, Utah’s special teams was the decisive winner Wednesday night. More accurately, placekicker Andy Phillips was the difference for the Utes. Phillips made four field goals, including a 48-yard field goal in the third quarter to put Utah up by three. The four field goals by Phillips is a Foster Farms Bowl record and his 48-yard make is also a record for the longest in bowl history.
Something has to change. I’m not necessarily saying someone needs to lose their job over it, but the offense needs to get more production if it wants to take the next step in the Pac-12. In the offseason, the offense needs an extra look to correct the problems. The offense is the most inconsistent facet of these Utah teams the last few years, and nothing has changed despite the players changing. Play-calling remains questionable and it ultimately comes down to coaching.
Maybe it’s building a pro-style offense instead of the spread that Whittingham wants. Maybe it’s going faster at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of the spread offense. Or maybe it’s new play-calling altogether. Whatever it is, Utah needs to have a focus on offense, recruit around it and make the most of the personnel.
It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but a win at the end of the season is always a positive. A win can give a positive outlook to the season and help with recruiting moving forward. Are there things to take away from this game and work on moving forward? Of course, and they’re explained above. All in all, it was a positive season and Utah found a way to get a win, even if it wasn’t exactly how it was scripted.