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Duck Tape: Film Review of Colorado vs Utah Week 13, 2021

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A review of Utah’s final game of the regular season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Colorado at Utah Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ve charted all 12 of Utah’s games this year. The summary of the first ten is here, and the write-up of their 11th game against Oregon is here. This article completes the process after charting the Utes’ final game against Colorado last Saturday.


Offense

Utah’s offensive performance came back down to earth against Colorado. Their per-play efficiency rates at both rushing and passing were identical to their averages over the first ten games, as were their rushing yards per carry and their explosive passing rate. The Utes did have a better yards per passing attempt average and a better explosive rushing rate against Colorado, but these come down to a single play apiece and probably just represent statistical noise.

OC Ludwig’s formational tendencies, if anything, were exacerbated: 80% run when under center, which is up six percentage points, and 21% run when in the shotgun, which is down seven. But again, this represents just one play’s worth of difference and is likely just noise.

I don’t put much stock in these things, but for what it’s worth there were other trends that resumed in this game as well. Utah had a field goal blocked and a kickoff returned for a touchdown, flipping back to the poor special teams play they’d had all season but had reversed against the Ducks. #7 QB Rising threw his first interception in 150 pass attempts, and their longest play from scrimmage was 33 yards.

Utah had 12 successful designed passing plays vs 11 unsuccessful ones or 52.2% efficiency, given the down & distance, and about 17% of dropbacks resulted in a 15+ yard gain. True to form, Rising had a successful scramble on a 3rd & 10 for a conversion. Here’s a representative sample of successful passing plays:

(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 speed)

  1. :00 - #18 WR Covey remains by far Utah’s most effective wideout, and this short crosser against man was a part of most of their route structures. Note the pre-snap motion to get the CB outside the safety, then the rub by #89 TE Fotheringham.
  2. :24 - #86 TE Kincaid simply runs a better route than this DB can hope to cover. There’s a more open receiver on the other side of the field but Rising checks out of that throw because he trusts this matchup more.
  3. :45 – Utah picked on this particular DB all day long, he simply couldn’t defend any TE he was matched up with. Here he’s way too late to bail on what’s an obvious run fake and actually cover #80 TE Kuithe.

The one pattern that did continue from week 12 into week 13 was that almost all productive passing was to the tight ends, and outside of one play there was little contribution from the wide receivers. On the whole, Utah averaged 8.5 yards per attempt outside garbage time, which broke down to 11.3 YPA when targeting TEs but only 6.0 YPA when targeting WRs. Some examples:

  1. :00 – I tallied seven of Utah’s 11 failed passing plays as inaccurate passes from Rising under varying degrees of pressure, including the interception. On this one (and three others) there’s no pressure at all and he’s pretty wide of #17 WR Vele.
  2. :10 – Rising is pretty good about deeper throws between the hashes but his throwing form really breaks down when he needs to put some arc on it to the sideline, which I think is a big part of why there’s such a discrepancy between the TEs and WRs in production.
  3. :19 – The other part is that, outside Covey, I’m not real wild about the WR corps’ ability to get separation and secure the ball. This receiver is using a pretty aggressive technique but still can’t come down with it.

Utah’s rushing performance against Colorado was virtually identical to their averages over the first ten games: 20 successful designed runs vs 16 failed ones, or 55.6%. They gained 6.2 yards per carry outside garbage time, and 22% of them gained 10+ yards (if a certain 10-yard run were spotted a half-yard shorter, which I think it should have been, that explosive rushing rate would have been identical too). That means that Utah bounced back in yardage and explosive rushing from their performance against the Ducks in week 12, when they gained 4.5 YPC and 12% were explosive. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Utah has a numbers advantage in the box so I’m a little confused why the ILB is unblocked, though two linemen do fall over on this wide zone run. At any rate, #9 RB Thomas is unmatched at dodging what should have been a TFL and breaking multiple tackles on the way to a 1st down.
  2. :18 – This type of run was the most common on my tally sheet – 20 of 22 players inside the box, about half the blocks are wins and half are losses, and the back picks his way through for a positive gain.
  3. :24 – I’ve got five rushes on my tally sheet like this one, winning blocks across the board and a nice big gap for the back to run through. Nice juke of the DB at the end.

What kept Utah from running away with this game against a clearly overmatched opponent was that they kept going back to their fairly predictable if efficient ground game in an attempt to control the clock, and had several fruitless possessions. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Another packed box, this time the slice from Kuithe is late so the frontside ILB has inside leverage, and the RT gets hung up before he gets to the second level so the backside ILB gets a free shot too.
  2. :08 – Not a lot of successful blocks here. The center doesn’t get to the second level and the back can’t cut back because the LT is beat too.
  3. :21 – When Utah runs outside it’s usually to the strongside with multiple tight ends, but they’ve been hit-or-miss this year when they’re the key blocks, as here when the OLB and DB have it strung out.


Colorado v Utah Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Defense

By contrast, Utah’s defense performed much better against Colorado’s anemic offense than their averages for the rest of the year in every figure I track. I found much of the film when Colorado possessed the ball to be tough to watch and they’ve since fired their longtime WR coach and OC.

The main thing I was watching for was how the linebackers would attack during rushing plays. Against Oregon in week 12 I was stunned that Utah changed up their longtime practice of having the two ILBs immediately hit the run gaps, instead having them sit back and patiently flow to the play. I was interested to see if they would continue that pattern, or revert to their far more aggressive style.

The answer was pretty mixed – they attacked aggressively on 10 rushing plays and held back on 9 of them. They also mixed in a third backer on Colorado’s frequent 12-personnel sets, which I don’t believe I’ve seen them do at all over the last several years. There weren’t any clear correlations with defensive success, however – I’ve got multiple wins and losses with both styles and with two vs three backers on my tally sheet, and the play count was too low to meaningfully dice this up any further.

Here’s a representative sample of successful rush defenses:

  1. :00 – Here’s a look at the patient LB version, though the play is really made here at the line. Note #0 LB Lloyd hanging back midfield and #1 LB Sewell setting the weakside edge.
  2. :07 – Another patient LB play, here the OL has fired up to them and blocked them out, but it’s a sweep pretty far away from them and the rest of the defense is simply outmuscling CU’s perimeter blocks, something I repeatedly noted on my tally sheet for outside runs both in this game and really all year long from the Buffs’ TEs and WRs.
  3. :16 – Now for the aggressive LB version: Sewell immediately shoots to the gap, dodges the LT, and collects the TFL.

And the unsuccessful rush defenses:

  1. :00 – Returning to the patient look, Sewell this time is up on the line of scrimmage and attempting to run the heels of the line but can’t beat the back to the hole. Lloyd is playing back but blocked out of the way and he has no help midfield.
  2. :07 – This was the most effective way CU had of dealing with the attacking LB version – using Lloyd’s aggression against him and walling him out of the play, and a legal cut block of Sewell, though he impressively recovers from it and keeps his feet.
  3. :21 – This is the more typical way that other teams have beaten Utah’s aggressive backers, with a press inside to get them to rush in then bounce outside behind some pullers. Utah relies on their very good box safety, #6 DB Bishop, to bail them out when this sort of thing happens, but he missed a couple of tackles in that scenario during this game.

Pass defense did have some pretty clear patterns, particularly that they were very effective when blitzing against Colorado:

  1. :00 – The blitz is picked up here but it takes a seven-man protection to do it so there’s just three receivers in the pattern, each fairly well covered. I think the corner is a little early with contact to the WR’s right arm but he gets away with it and at any rate he’s in close contact the whole way.
  2. :24 – This might be the slowest sack I’ve ever seen. Embarrassing OL play like this is part of why this game wasn’t much fun to study.
  3. :37 – Utah brings six here but still manages double coverage on two of three targets in the pattern against CU’s depleted WR corps.

The rest of the pass defenses were more of a mixed bag. I continue to think that #8 CB Phillips who always plays on the offense’s right side is their best DB, although not a completely lockdown corner, and that freshman walk-on backup #16 CB Vaughn who’s always on the left is much more vulnerable, though he had one very nice pass break-up in this game. Some examples:

  1. :00 – When Utah doesn’t blitz they tend to back everybody else out pretty deep, and I’ve seen them give up quite a few scrambles that way. Here UW transfer #28 DB McKinney has the responsibility to get to the sideline but the back knocks him to the turf.
  2. :11 – Lloyd is too early on this blitz and Colorado takes advantage of the free play. Phillips is commendably tight but he’s got his hips flipped and eyes locked onto the receiver instead of playing the ball, and can’t recover in time.
  3. :34 – Vaughn is giving a pretty huge cushion on this throw to the flat, in fact Sewell beats him to the tackle running all the way from midfield.