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Utah football gets well-deserved win, but not everything was perfect vs. Oregon State

(Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press) Oregon State linebacker Andrzej Hughes-Murray (49) hits Utah quarterback Jake Bentley (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

At 12:19 a.m. Sunday, @Utah_Football fired off a 37-second video from deep inside the bowels of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes, moments removed from a 30-24 win over Oregon State, engaged in a rousing, raucous rendition of the Utah fight song, “Utah Man.” To put the whole thing over the top, the video featured 5-foot-8 Britain Covey on the shoulders of 6-foot-7 Bam Olaseni.

The moment was well-deserved for Covey, who, in his first extended action of the season, had four catches for 54 yards, a third-quarter receiving touchdown and a 64-yard punt-return score in the fourth quarter.

Bigger picture, Saturday was a high-water moment for the football program, which dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak last month, had two games canceled as a result, and lost two others, but finally earned the right to celebrate something late Saturday night.

In this weird, winding, uncertain Pac-12 football season, teams should take an opportunity to enjoy themselves when something positive happens, and the Utes did just that. Good for them.

Three takeaways

Ty Jordan continues to be a revelation: Any notion that there is not a real pecking order in Utah’s backfield has faded with each passing week. Saturday’s win should completely blast any notion at all.

Jordan, a true freshman playing in his third career game, rushed for 167 yards and his first career touchdown on 27 carries. He added two catches for 22 yards to finish with a team-high 189 all-purpose yards.

“Ty Jordan, as evidenced by what you saw tonight, has separated himself and right now, he is definitely our lead back, and that’s how it goes,” said Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham, who later noted he would like to get Jordan more touches in the pass game.

With his offensive line winning up front all night, Jordan had four runs of at least 11 yards, including a 31-yarder in the second quarter, and did not fumble, which is progress after fumbling once in each of the first two games.

Jordan, who is drawing early comparisons, fair or not, to Zack Moss, is getting most of the work, while Jordan Wilmore was dressed and available, but did not play due to injury. Devin Brumfield, the projected starter at the outset this fall, has just 21 carries through three games.

Red zone, short-yardage offense is a problem: Whittingham saved most of his postgame frustration for this topic, specifically the red zone.

On Utah’s first three drives of the night, it had third-and-8 on the Oregon State 15-yard line, third-and-goal on the 2, and third-and-5 on the 9. All three plays were either a bad throw or an overthrow to a tight end by Jake Bentley, and all three wound up in Jadon Redding field goals. At the 12:27 mark of the second quarter, the Utes led 9-0, but should have been up 21-0.

When posed with this topic postgame, Whittingham, without being rude about it, cut the question off and began venting.

“We didn’t score, we got field goals, that’s a whole different deal,” Whittingham said. “That was extremely frustrating, the first three trips to the red zone to end up with field goals. The game should have been blown wide open earlier, and it was our inability to function how we need to in the red zone, our ineptness in the red zone. That game should not have even been close early on.”

As for general short-yardage, in the fourth quarter, the Utes ran five plays of 2 yards or less to go. All were runs, netting a total of 1 yard. Within that, with Utah nursing a 30-24 lead late in the game, Jordan was stuffed on second, third, and fourth-and-1 from the Beavers 43-yard line.

Not good enough, especially when the Utes clearly won the line of scrimmage for three-plus quarters.

Utah was undisciplined, which is uncharacteristic: Utah committed eight penalties in its first two games to lead the Pac-12 in penalties per game, then committed 11 on Saturday for 96 yards.

Oregon State’s first touchdown drive of the night featured a 15-yard personal-foul penalty on Viane Moala, a 13-yard personal foul on Hauati Pututau, a targeting penalty on Malone Mataele, for which he was ejected, and a holding call on Devin Lloyd on first-and-goal at the 2.

Utah overcame all these things Saturday, but to have that many penalties for that many yards sticks out because it is uncharacteristic. Dating back to 2012, the Utes have not averaged more than 7.4 penalties per game in a season.

Player of the game

Britain Covey, redshirt junior, wide receiver

It was good to see Covey out there healthy because even he will tell you it’s been a long road with injuries, not to mention the pandemic.

The third-quarter touchdown reception was aided by Bentley doing a nice job of looking off the defense, then hitting Covey over the middle on a slant on second-and-goal from the 8.

Covey’s punt return was vintage, shades of his 2015 touchdown return at Fresno State. He fielded the ball cleanly at his own 34, shook an arm tackle, and blasted up the middle, untouched before juking the punter at the Oregon State 10 and walking into the end zone.

“I don’t even know if I can express how frustrating injuries have been for me,” said Covey, who caught his first touchdown since Oct. 20, 2018 vs. USC. “Being healthy makes the biggest difference, I can’t even explain. I came in tonight more excited than any game the past two years because I knew when I lined up, I wouldn’t be thinking about injury, or any part of my body.”

Up next

Raise your hand if you thought Colorado would be leading the Pac-12 South, let alone leading with one regular-season game to go. Now, raise your other hand if you thought first-year head coach Karl Dorrell would be the clear frontrunner for Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Put your hands down, you’re all liars.

The Buffaloes will host Utah Friday night (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1), and will do so at 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12. In typical 2020 weirdness, though, Colorado could beat the Utes to remain unbeaten and still not win the South.

USC hosted Washington State on Sunday night in Los Angeles. A win there, plus a win next week at UCLA gives the Trojans a 5-0 record, the South title and a trip to the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 18. USC would have the tiebreaker over Colorado based on one more win within the division.

Head-to-head is not part of the equation after a Nov 28 meeting between the Trojans and Buffaloes was canceled as the former dealt with COVID-19 issues.

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