What went right, what went wrong for Utah vs. Oregon State

The Utes’ defense being decent instead of dominant against the Beavers proved insufficient to overcome the offense grinding to a halt, a general lack of physicality, and another rash of injuries.

(Amanda Loman | AP) Oregon State wide receiver Silas Bolden (7) dodges Utah cornerback JaTravis Broughton (4) during the first half Friday in Corvallis, Ore.

Corvallis, Ore. • This usually is a fairly even mix of assessing the components of the Utah football team’s plan and performance that worked and what needs improvement.

This time, though …

What went right? What went right?

Hmmmmm. That one’s gonna take a minute.

The Utes’ 21-7 loss to Oregon State at Reser Stadium on Friday night didn’t yield a ton on the positive side of the ledger.

It’s not completely barren. But there’s no getting around the obvious, that the pile of “things to work on” is stacked considerably higher this time.

So then, let’s start with a thing or two that wasn’t abjectly horrific, and descend from there, shall we?

First, the good (or at least not awful) news

Utah’s defense wasn’t terrible?

Could you hear the accompanying grimace and shoulder shrug? They were pretty audible.

“Defense, you know, decent performance, not the outstanding performance we’ve been delivering the last few games, or really all season,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “We held them to half of their usual rushing yardage. … But 21 points — that’s too much for us.”

He would later concede that the Football Bowl Subdivision points per game average is about 26 or 27, so 21 is actually pretty good. And the 358 total yards conceded wasn’t egregious, either.

Not that his players were going to concede as much.

“We had a lot of missed tackles — that’s something we’ve got to clean up,” said safety Cole Bishop, who finished with seven tackles and an interception. “We gave up 21 points, so there’s a lot we’ve got to work on.”

He’s right about the tackling — poor efforts in that regard contributed pretty directly to two of OSU’s three touchdowns.

The other bit of non-heinous news?

This loss, bad as it was, will not by itself prove ruinous to Utah’s season.

“I can pretty much — pretty much — guarantee that no one’s going through the Pac-12 conference schedule undefeated,” said Whittingham. “I just don’t see that happening.”

We shall see.

198 yards of offense? What the ...?

Whittingham at least didn’t sugarcoat it.

“We didn’t make plays. We had one touchdown and not even 200 yards of offense — you will win exactly zero games doing that,” he said.

He later amended his math to suggest that such a performance would result in a loss 95 times out of 100, but you get the point.

Quarterback Nate Johnson’s accuracy was off for much of the night, as he was 3 of 12 for 35 yards before he got pulled, and finished 8 of 23 for 101 and a touchdown pass to Thomas Yassmin, in which the tight end won a quick slant, broke one tackle, then outran the pursuit to the end zone.

Many of the QB’s passes simply lack touch, and would-be receivers either have the ball land at their feet, or get a fastball in close quarters when a changeup would be more appropriate. Then again, there were several passes on crucial conversion plays that hit the target in the hands or the numbers.

Beyond the accuracy issues, Johnson still struggles with decision-making in terms of when to hold and extend and try to wait for a receiver to come open vs. when he’s better off just taking off and using his electric legs to generate something from nothing.

It wasn’t all on him, either. An offensive line that Whittingham said was lacking physicality vs. UCLA was frequently blown up by the Beavers. OSU only totaled three sacks and five TFLs, but they frequently flushed Johnson from the pocket.

They also dominated in the trenches, as the Utes amassed only 57 rushing yards on 32 carries.

“We just couldn’t get things done,” said Johnson. “Some easy missed throws, missed blocks, protection breakdowns. It was a struggle tonight.”

No one wanted to get more specific than that.

Suffice it to say, there are problems pretty much everywhere on that side of the ball.

“I’m not going to point out one position group or one facet of the offense. We’re just not getting it done,” said Whittingham. “We’re not in sync. We’re not productive. We’re not doing anything real well on offense right now.”

Injury situation goes from bad to worse

There’s no getting around Utah being short-handed on account of injuries.

On Friday, significant contributors missing from the game included quarterback Cam Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe, running back Ja’Quinden Jackson, receiver Mycah Pittman, offensive lineman Johnny Maea, and defensive ends Connor O’Toole and Van Fillinger.

The depth concerns would get more dire as the game went on.

Early in the proceedings, backup running back Charlie Vincent went out after absorbing an alligator roll-style tackle. Later on, Logan Fano — who’s been filling in admirably for O’Toole and Fillinger — got home on a sack, but incurred some damage to his knee in the process. He left the medical tent on crutches.

A short while later, Fano’s younger brother, Spencer — the team’s starting left tackle — went down as well. He’d eventually return, but clearly looked hobbled. And then there’s Bryson Barnes, who was called on to replace an ineffectual Johnson, but left the game after absorbing a hit that resulted in both a roughing the passer penalty and also a targeting ejection.

Whittingham said of Barnes postgame, “He’s at the hospital right now, and we’re very concerned about his health.”

The outlook for the others was apparently pretty dismal, too.

“It doesn’t look good for Logan, doesn’t look good for Charlie, doesn’t look good for Bryson. Spencer Fano has got an issue. So we probably lost four, five, or six more guys,” said Whittingham. “But [I will] never, ever, ever use as an excuse — ever. Just keep moving ahead and playing with the guys that we’ve got that are healthy.”