No. 24 Utah aims to elevate passing attack

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah could finally have all the right pieces in place this season to add a true passing threat to its traditionally run-heavy offense.

The 24th-ranked Utes are flush with experience and talent at wide receiver and tight end – led by Britain Covey and Brant Kuithe. Covey has led Utah in receiving yards during three of his previous four seasons on the roster while Kuithe finished first in total receptions last season.

“In terms of talent alone, this is by far the most balanced team I’ve ever been a part of in terms of where the firepower is in the offense – quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end,” Covey said.

The Utes also seemingly have the right quarterbacks for the job. Charlie Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons at Baylor before coming to Utah. Cameron Rising is a pro-style quarterback with a strong arm who showed promise before suffering a shoulder injury against USC last season.

“I feel like we’re going to have a very explosive offense,” Brewer said. “I feel like we’re not just going to be a defensive team. We’re going to be a complete football team.”

A potent passing game would flip the script from earlier seasons where Utah relied on a physical running game and tough defense to grind out victories.

Utah has never ranked higher than seventh in the Pac-12 in passing offense and averaged just 6.7 yards per pass attempt last season. The Utes finished 11th in the league in passing offense in each of the three seasons they won or shared the Pac-12 South crown.

Coach Kyle Whittingham wants to bring more balance to the offense but he wants to do it without sacrificing efficiency or ball security, areas that have been points of strength for the Utes in seasons past.

“We still got to take care of the football and we still got to win the turnover battle each game,” Whittingham said. “That’s not gonna change.”

EXPERIENCED O-LINE

Utah returns all five starters on the offensive line from last season. Nick Ford headlines this experienced unit as the team’s starting center for a second consecutive year. Ford, who has made 26 starts in 30 career games, earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Covey enters the season with a shot at becoming Utah’s career leader in punt return yardage. The junior receiver currently has 665 yards on 63 career returns. He needs just 228 return yards to overtake LaVon Edwards for the top spot.

TACKLE FACTORY

The Utes return all but one of their top 10 tacklers on defense. Headlining that crew is Devin Lloyd. The junior linebacker led Utah in tackles each of the last two seasons with 139 total tackles over that span. Lloyd earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020 after ranking second in the league in tackles for loss (10).

WELCOME BACK

Jaylen Dixon has rejoined Utah after a one-year absence from the team. Dixon appeared in 28 games at wide receiver, making six starts, during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. His best season came in 2018 when he finished second on the team in total receptions (32) and receiving yards (589) as a redshirt freshman.

SCHEDULE

Utah opens the season hosting Weber State on Sept. 2. The Utes’ fate in the Pac-12 South could hinge on a pair of early October contests. The Utes travel to No. 15 USC on Oct. 9 and then host No. 25 Arizona State a week later on Oct. 16. Win both games and the Utes are in the driver’s seat in the division, with their toughest remaining opponent being No. 11 Oregon, whom they host on Nov. 20.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.