Monday, January 23, 2012
Season grade: Utah
By ESPN.com staff
The 2011 season is over. That means report cards are due.
Up next: Utah
Offense: The Utes ranked 12 in the Pac-12 in total offense with 310.9 yards per game and ninth in the conference in scoring offense with 25 points per game. The Utes, after losing quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury in game four against Washington, basically leaned on running back John White and their tough defense. White ranked 11th in the nation with 116.9 ypg, and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors, but the Utes ranked last in the conference in passing yards per game and 10th in passing efficiency. They gave up a lot of sacks -- 2.58 per game -- and were terrible on third down, ranking last in the conference in conversion rate. Still, Jon Hays, a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha who replaced Wynn, became a good enough game manager that the Utes won five of their last six games, including a dramatic comeback against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Defense: The Utes ranked 19th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.2 ppg) and third in the Pac-12 in total defense (350.9 ypg). They were No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency defense and No. 3 in run defense (113.54 ypg). The Utes were good -- but not great -- at pressuring the quarterback (2.5 sacks per game ranking fifth in the conference) and they were good -- but not great -- on third down, ranking fifth in conversion defense. What they were particularly good at, however, was take-aways. They led the conference with 32 take-aways, including 19 interceptions. Two defensive linemen, tackle Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy as the conference's best defensive lineman, and end Derrick Shelby won first-team All-Pac-12 honors.
Overall: The Utes would have won the South Division if they didn't gag at home on the regular-season's final weekend in a surprising loss to Colorado. But they bounced back from that with an impressive overtime victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. An 8-5 finish with a 4-5 record in conference play ain't too shabby for a team that made the move from the Mountain West into an AQ conference. Some wondered if the Utes could handle the weekly grind of Pac-12 play. They did and ended up with the third most wins in the league. Further, if they can figure things out at quarterback, the Utes look like they could be a factor in the South in 2012.