It was an impressive but ultimately disappointing season for Utah University Football last season. Read to find out what to expect from the Utes in 2022.
Here’s Where the Utah Utes Stand Heading Into the Fall
The Utah Utes exceeded expectations in 2021. In addition to winning their division they also won their first PAC-12 championship in program history and separated themselves from their biggest conference rival, the Oregon Ducks.
The Utes beat the Ducks twice with ease last season, winning 38-7 in November and then made Oregon experience deja vu by beating them 38-10 just two weeks later.
They finished the season ranked 12th in the nation and ultimately lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes in a thrilling Rose Bowl game. The sky’s the limit for Utah football in 2022 as there is a lot to like about this team. The question is whether they can exceed their success from last season.
The Utes’ big moments on the gridiron last year overshadowed the fact that they took losses in two of their first three games; both against opponents who’d finished ranked.
Their first loss was 26-17 on the road against #19 BYU and the second in San Diego against the Aztecs 33-31. Had it not been for these two early season losses, the Utes may very well have had a shot at being in the college football playoff.
In 2022 the Utes will enter with the good combination of a strong ranking and an easy schedule. ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early college football top 25” has the Utes ranked 7th best in the nation, citing their overall depth on both sides of the ball.
The return of sophomore running back Taivon Thomas will be huge for this Utah team. Thomas put on an absolute clinic in 2021, leading the PAC-12 in rushing touchdowns with 21. Additionally, he finished top five among PAC-12 running backs in rushes and rushing yards.
Thomas’ ability to hit the end-zone put the rest of the conference on notice in 2021.
Under center, sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising was good but not great. Among the rest of the conference, he finished with the 6th most completions (204), 5th most passing yards (2493), 9th most yards per game (191.8) and 3rd most touchdowns (20).
Clearly Rising’s presence didn’t hurt this team as the program had its best season since 2008.
On defense they’re more than sound. Defensive end Mike Tafua was PAC-12 sack leader with 12 and also first in sack yards with 67. They’ll certainly feel the absence of linebacker Devin Lloyd who will be going to the NFL draft in April, but this defense was stellar for head coach Kyle Whittingham.
The Utes will have a comparatively easy schedule to the rest of their conference in the upcoming season. They’ll face only two 2021 ranked opponents in San Diego State and Oregon. Other than that this team should have no trouble beating up on teams like Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford.
Keys to Success
The Utes played like a well-oiled machine for most of 2021, but there’s always room for improvement. Those two early losses were killer and held this team back from climbing much higher than they could’ve.
The Utes will likely be ranked in the top 10 to open the season, so a strong start to the season is going to be paramount to their improvement. That means staying undefeated until they meet up with what should be their only competition for PAC-12 champion: the Oregon Ducks.
The Utes are retaining most of their important talent, save for Lloyd and wideout Britain Covey.The offense’s success will depend on strong play from Rising and the offensive line’s ability to create space for Thomas to attack opposing defenses up the middle.
Other than Lloyd leaving, there isn’t much reason to worry about the Utes’ defense. It’s a solid secondary and even better line. Winning the games they’re expected to will make or break the Utes’ performance this season. Count on this team to stay in the top 10 nationally and run it back as PAC-12 champions.
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