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It’s hard to know how good Utah and Utah State are this year. Utah State won last years match by a one score difference of 27-20 and went on to lose to BYU but ended with a stellar school best 11-2 record. Utah bounced back to beat BYU, but then injuries took their toll and the Utes ended their season with a disappointing 5-7 record. 3-6 in the Pac-12.

Like last year, this game ended in a one score victory, only it was Utah by 6 this year. The game had Utahns around the state biting their nails from the opening kickoff to the very last play. Utah marched to a 14-3 lead. A Travis Wilson pass down the middle to Anthony Denham for 51 yards set up an easy 3 yard pass for a touchdown. The Aggies battled back to take a 23-14 lead with two touchdown passes from Chuckie Keeton to Brandon Swindall and a second field goal. Utah Stated looked to have all the momentum. But Utah’s defense rose up and forced two three and outs allowing the offense to claw their way into a 24-23 lead. Utah State kicked a field goal to go up 26-24. But the final two scores were Utah field goals.

If you look at the stats, both teams played fairly equal. If anything, the stats slightly favored Utah State. Utah State had 34 more total yards and two more first downs. Utah State had six more plays that Utah. The Aggies out-rushed the Utes by nearly a yard per carry. While Utah averaged 10.7 yards per pass to Utah State’s 8.1 yards per pass, Utah State completed 13 more passes than Utah.

When two teams play at a near equal level, it is inevitably the team that makes the most mistakes that loses. Two mistakes by Utah State, one also a great play by Utah, made all the difference in this game. Without those two plays, the game would have ended in a victory for the Aggies.

The first mistake occurred with 3:12 left in the first quarter.

Utah had the ball at their own fourteen yard line on a 3rd and 16. Forcing a punt would earn the Aggies a chance to start their next drive in Utah territory. Instead they committed a 15 yard penalty, which is an automatic first down.

The second mistake happened with 2:24 to go in the 3rd quarter.

The Utes called an early and unexpected onside kick and the Aggies weren’t ready. Karl Williams recovered the onside kick for Utah. Once again, the Aggies mistake lead to a touchdown.

You might argue that the Aggies also fumbled going into the red zone, which cost them a score. I agree. But so did Utah. If either team could have avoided their fumble, they would likely have scored one more time. The Aggie fumble, however, might have only been a three point difference. We’ll never know. The penalty and the onside kick both resulted in 7 points for Utah.

One might fault the Utah State coaches for the penalties or the onside kick. The Aggies had 7 penalties for 95 yards. But each year there are a lot of coaches for much bigger schools that would love to have only seven penalties for 95 yards. And lets face it. The Utah call was a gutsy risk. Utah’s defense had just pitched two three an outs. No coach in the world would have expected that call.

Talking Utah Football

Utah and Utah State both play Weber State and are expected to win easily. They also both play BYU this year. BYU’s defense will likely be as just as stingy as they were last year. The Cougars would argue that they gifted Utah 7 points, had 11 first-half false starts, and botched multiple field goals, allowing the better team to lose. But lets face it, Utah earned the victory because they came into the game better coached and better prepared. Can Utah beat the BYU this year if the Cougars are mistake free? Can Utah State bounce back from their loss to Utah to beat a Cougar team that shut them out last year?

If Utah is healthier this year, I predict they will end this season with 7 or 8 wins despite their tough PAC-12 schedule. Utah State has a new coach and they play some tough teams are unlikely to reach 11 wins again. I pick them to win 8 games. BYU plays a schedule as difficult as Utah’s, and it would be a stellar season if they matched their 7 and 5 record from last year. However, last year they suffered injuries to the quarterback, their kicker, and their offensive line and lost a lot of close games. If their kicking game alone had been healthy, they would have only lost one game. I expect them to with 9 games.

If any Utah team can win a game or two more than expected, they will easily end the season in the top 25.

Football matters in Utah.