Utah can still win the Pac-12 championship

The Utes' season is far from over -- and a talented defense can lead a rebound following their first loss of the year.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Utah can still win the Pac-12 championship


The most concerning aspect of Utah’s loss to USC was the poor play of quarterback Travis Wilson (-3.4) who, after not making many mistakes early in the season, has struggled in recent weeks, posting grades of -3.2 and -6.6 against Cal and USC. That has put extra pressure on the Utah defense but — while they obviously need him to get back to his early season form — their season is far from over, especially when you consider the talent they have in the backfield.

Devontae Booker (+21.2) is our third-highest graded running back, behind only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot (+28.2) and Leonard Fournette (+30.2). Booker’s forced 38 missed tackles so far this year, has come up with big runs to power the Utah offense along, and there’s no reason for him to not continue to be the focal point of the offense in the final five games of the season.

The other big reason why Utah can win all five of their remaining games and get to the Pac-12 Championship game is the strength of their defense — particularly that defensive line. In the middle Lowell Lotulelei (+16.8) and Viliseni Fauonuku (+19.3) form one of the better duos in all of college football, with Lotulelei impressing against the run, and Fauonuku doing his best work as a pass rusher. In total eight of their nine defensive linemen have graded at +8.1 or higher, with Pita Taumoepenu (+8.7) really standing out on just 99 snaps. With five sacks, four hits and seven hurries giving him a pass rushing productivity rating of 19.2, he is tied with Penn State’s Carl Nassib for the second-highest PRP of all defensive ends who have rushed the passer at least 60 times this year.

The loss against USC was a blow to their title hopes, particularly with how one-sided the loss was, but with a standout running back and tough defensive line, they absolutely have the ability to rebound and still come out of the Pac-12 as champions when it’s all said and done.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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