Some of the Rams need to learn something from the 526 yards the Utah Utes piled up on them on Saturday.
And it’s not the defense.
The Utes put on an offensive clinic this weekend in Salt Lake City, and while the Rams’ defense should give itself a hard look, it’s the Rams’ offense that could learn the most.
Utah did a lot of things that the Rams have failed to do this entire season. To review, here’s a recap of the Offense 101 lecture the Rams received.
It seems like this should be an easy part of the lesson but the Rams have continually failed to physically make the play. If you can’t run, throw and catch the ball, it doesn’t matter who’s calling the plays. You’re not going to move it any other way.
The Utes slipped tackles, got blocking from the front line and made highlight catches along the sideline. Rarely has the Rams’ offense been able to accomplish all that on the same play.
“We missed things today,” said offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt. “Caleb [Hanie] missed a read or two, threw the ball late a few times, receiver missed catches. We had things open, we just didn’t make plays today.”
Hanie completed 13 passes in 30 attempts. Several times he threw behind the route, while other times he neglected to see open players downfield and a few others were dropped by his receivers.
“Utah is a man team,” said Hammerschmidt. “In man coverage there’s going to be a guy hanging on you when you’re trying to catch the ball. You got to be a mean sucker to catch those balls.”
The Utes ran 76 plays from offense and it seemed as though not one of them was the same.
To confuse the Rams’ defense, Utah used everything in the playbook. Nine different players rushed the ball at least once. They used their all-conference cornerback Eric Weddle at quarterback. In the third quarter they ran a triple reverse that had the Rams running in five different directions by the time it was over.
“Triple reverse – I haven’t seen it in forever,” said safety Klint Kubiak. “A lot can go wrong when they run trick plays. And a lot did for us today.”
The use of Weddle at quarterback wasn’t totally unexpected as the Utes have used Weddle in short down situations all season. The Rams were expecting the cornerback to run the ball though, not complete a pass for 25 yards, as he did to set up the second touchdown of the game.
“He’s a pretty talented guy but we didn’t expect him to pass,” said Head Coach Sonny Lubick on Weddle in the offense. “And damned it if he didn’t throw the ball.”
The Rams tried to be creative once, a reverse to receiver Damon Morton that was supposed to turn into a pass downfield. What it did turn into was Morton being hit almost as soon as he was handed the ball and managing to get away for a short gain.
The Utes did a great job of using Weddle to run the ball early in the game, and then throwing on the Rams when they overcommitted later on. It seemed like the Rams were trying to set up the whole game and never took their shot.
“Obviously when Weddle came into the game we knew they were running,” said Kubiak. “But then he comes out and throws and I’m not there, that’s on me. I was playing percentages instead of football, I guess.”
Easier said than done in the midst of a five-game losing streak. But if you don’t have confidence in your offense, it’s going to show.
After throwing for only nine yards in the first quarter, Hanie erupted for 136 in the second, but he also threw two interceptions.
Hanie finished the day with as many carries as completions. After the Utes made the score 35-16 in the fourth quarter, the Rams ran 15 plays the rest of the game – five of them were rushed by the quarterback, two others were punts and none were long shots down the field.
The hesitation shown by Hanie could be a lot of different things. One of them could be that his confidence was shot from the first half.
“I think those kinds of things can affect quarterbacks,” said Hammerschmidt. “One thing about great ones is that they don’t let it affect them. They learn from it and keep going. I did see Caleb start to aim a few after that. You can’t aim the football.
“It could have affected him, but it shouldn’t have.”
For whatever reason, Utah was able to score enough points to win the football game. The Rams’ offense will have to work harder at accomplishing just that if they have any hope of winning another game this season.
Football beat writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.