Utah's passing attack needs to step up
There is much to like about the Utah Utes. They have one of the leading special teams units in the nation, have a physically imposing defense and a productive running game. Those strengths have helped the Utes establish themselves as one of the leading contenders for the Pac-12, and from there the College Football Playoff. They also have a body of work as good as any team to this point, with wins over Michigan, Cal and Oregon to their credit. However, an inconsistent passing attack could be their Achilles heel.
Quarterback Travis Wilson epitomises that inconsistency. His -0.8 overall grade is the definition of average, yet his play rarely ever is (it’s either better or worse). He was at his best when earning a +3.0 grade in victory over Oregon, where he hurt the Ducks both passing and rushing. Yet, he followed that excellent performance with a -3.6 effort against Cal. In 2014 Wilson finished with a -3.1 overall rating, despite having six +1 or better graded performances. It’s that fluctuating performance level that makes it difficult for the Utes to lean too heavily on Wilson, so instead they must rely on star RB Devontae Booker (+12.8).
In fairness to Wilson, he’s not exactly surrounded with elite receiving talent. Booker isn’t just the Utes workhorse on the ground — he leads the team with 19 receptions and 194 receiving yards. True freshman Britain Covey (+2.3) is second with 17 catches and 182 yards. If the Utes find themselves behind and need to take to the air, I’m not so sure they have the talent to do so.
Certainly there can be no question about their ground game. Booker is among the best running backs in the nation, and growing into the season — his +5.7 rushing grade against Cal is the best mark of his career. Rather than relying on his offensive line dominating, Booker creates much of his yardage for himself. He has forced 34 missed tackles on 156 touches, is averaging 3.3 yards after contact per run, and 11.7 yards after the catch. Regardless of what’s been going on with the passing attack, Booker has been reliable in 2015, grading positively in every game and posting overall grades of +2 or greater in four of five games. The fifth was a +0.7 overall grade against Michigan, and that’s the best grade earned by a running back against the Wolverines this year.
The next task for Utah is to tackle the Pac-12 South where they face off against Arizona State, USC, Arizona and UCLA — four flawed but talented teams. The Utes are certainly capable of beating all of them, but the run game will need support from the passing attack if they are to do so.