After an impressive 3-0 record in nonconference play -- that included wins over Utah State and BYU -- the Utes got off to a frustrating conference start, dropping an overtime game to Oregon State and losing by a touchdown to UCLA. But they broke through last week with a 27-21 win against No. 5 Stanford -- one of the biggest regular-season wins in school history.
At 4-2, the Utes will be tested on the backend of their schedule with four of their final six on the road. The good news is only one of those opponents is ranked, and that’s No. 2 Oregon. Don’t start making postseason travel arrangements yet, but some cautious optimism could be in order the way things have been rolling for the Utes.
The infusion of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson into the offense has been significant. What was once the worst passing offense in the Pac-12 has steadily climbed. It’s still in the bottom third, but the Utes are averaging a very respectable 277.7 yards per game. Health across the offensive line and consistency at quarterback (see below) have also been major contributing factors for the Utes, who average 37 points per game.
Utah also boasts the top red-zone offense in the league, converting 90.9 percent of the time it reaches the opponent’s 20. A lot of that has to do with kicker Andy Phillips, who is a perfect 11 of 11 on field goals for the season.
Defensively, there has been a slight statistical drop-off, which was expected with an untested secondary and a rebuilt defensive front. Utah enters the second half at minus-3 in turnover margin -- 10th in the conference.
Offensive MVP: Travis Wilson. Isn’t it amazing what healthy, consistent quarterback play can do? Wilson has been one of the great stories of the first half of the season. He’s thrown for 13 touchdowns and run for five more. The 10 interceptions aren’t a huge concern, coach Kyle Whittingham said, because in the six-interception game against UCLA, five of those were more the fault of the line and/or receivers. Wilson has quickly taken to Erickson's offense and has been that steady presence under center the Utes have lacked the last couple of seasons.
Defensive MVP: Trevor Reilly. The Utes linebacker simply does it all. He leads the team with 44 tackles (27 solo), he’s broken up two passes, recorded 5.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He’s also recovered a pair of fumbles and forced one. He’s the emotional leader the team rallies around and always seems to be where the ball is. In a deep class of hybrid DE/LBs, Reilly has so far made his case for postseason honors.