Bruce and Bruce
Blog Only – A losing week for Utah sports
It was a rough stretch of days for fans and followers of Utah’s major sports teams. Real Salt Lake lost on the road against the Houston Dynamo as a follow-up to their first winning streak (2 games) this season. Utah lost in two ways, not only dropping the home opener against Air Force, but losing their best offensive player – Brent Casteel – for the season to a knee injury. Utah State lost to Wyoming, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the team for more than a month. The Salt Lake Bees lost the conference playoff to the Sacramento River Cats, ending their season. Even BYU – the team I am counting on to provide some interest for my fall sports season – lost a tough away game to ranked UCLA. Like I said, it was a rough stretch.Because of my own personal loyalties and interests, the toughest of these losses for me to digest was Utah 12, Air Force 20. Not because of the Falcons, who, in my opinion, are one of the most disciplined and respectable teams in the NCAA, but because of Utah’s poor play and blown opportunities. It is true that they have opened the season with a stretch of very unlucky injuries, but they have enough depth of talent that playing a middle-of-the-pack conference opponent like Air Force at home should result in a win.Instead Utah fans were subjected to a game that could have been taken from last year’s campaign. The offense was shaky due to a terrible performance at quarterback, which was augmented by poor play-calling. The defense struggled to keep the team in the game, but never really had a chance to catch their breath because the offense was so anemic. Their tackling became very sloppy and the linebackers played the entire second half back on their heels (Air Force rushed 63 times for 334 yards). Utah’s best-looking drive came at the very end of the fourth quarter, but they failed on three straight downs to score from inside the five yard line.There is plenty of ammunition for finger-pointing. Tommy Grady’s statistics improved over the previous week, but most of his positive numbers came on one unsuccessful drive. For most of the game he had trouble with long passes, short passes, shovel passes, pitches, quick handoffs, hot reads, outlets, and screens. He managed the long, reaching handoffs okay, most of which were quickly stopped by an energetic-if-undersized Air Force defense. He completed a pass here and there, and seemed surprised when it happened (I might have made up that last part – maybe it was just me that was surprised). He gave up two interceptions and looked uncomfortable for most of the game.The coaching staff deserves some of the blame, as well. I am not adept with football strategy, by any measure. As I have said before on the podcast, any play calling knowledge I may have comes from playing NCAA Football on my Xbox. I have no experience – on any level – with team or game management. However, in spite of my towering ignorance, I know it’s not a good idea to call a long-developing wide receiver reverse on third-and-1 during a critical drive in the fourth quarter. Especially if my running backs were producing, as Utah’s had been at the time. However, that is exactly what Utah’s offensive coordinator called. As one might expect, Air Force was already playing up – anticipating some sort of dive or keeper – and blew up the play for an eight-yard loss. Utah punted on the next down. I believe coaching is a lot more difficult than most people understand – that the men and women in various coaching positions sacrifice their health, their other prospects, and their family lives for a generally thankless career. I’m sure Andy Ludwig – the offensive coordinator at Utah – is a very nice man. I know he is old buddies with head coach Kyle Wittingham, and they have a great working relationship. But that doesn’t do a thing to address the team’s problems; namely that there is no imagination to the offensive play-calling. I don’t write that because I can do better, or I know what needs to happen. I write that because I watch a lot of football, and I know a bad offense when I see it. It can’t be easy to lose three of your five best offensive weapons in the first two games of the year, and only hope to get one of them back for part of the season. It would be very discouraging to have your best offensive lineman go out for the year before the first game was played. There may be a lot of head-hanging and feeling-sorry-for-themselves going on during Utah’s practices, and I can’t say they would be unjustified.But the point of having depth charts and constantly recruiting talent is so there is someone ready for these scenarios. Even though the fans and the team are disappointed at the injuries, there are a few players who should be thrilled for the opportunity they now have to show what they can do and help the team.If the coaching staff can call a good game, keep opposing defenses guessing, and tailor the plays to the available players, then there is still hope for the season. At this point, an average team would be tempted to concede the season and use the time to develop their younger talent. A great team, however, would – and hopefully will – rise to the occasion.There is plenty more to hear in the podcast, including discussion of the BYU game and our top three in Utah breakdown.Our Top 3 in Utah for this week:3. Louie Sakoda2. Max Hall1. The Salt Lake BeesThank you very much for reading and listening to the Utah SportsCast! We would love to hear from you, either by commenting on the blog or sending an e-mail to email@example.com.