UTAH UTES

Three Takeaways From Utah Football’s Las Vegas Bowl Loss

Dec 23, 2023, 9:52 PM | Updated: 11:00 pm

LAS VEGAS – The bowl losing streak continues for Utah football after they failed to get much offense going against Northwestern in the Las Vegas Bowl.

It was a defensive affair at Allegiant Stadium with both teams struggling to find the end zone for most of the game. However, the Wildcats eventually prevailed after a late fourth quarter touchdown put them up, 14-7 over the Utes.

There isn’t much to gather from this game, but here are three takeaways from Utah football’s Las Vegas Bowl loss.

Takeaway #1: Welcome Back Micah Bernard

By nature, I’m a positive person so we’re going to start with the positives.

Running back Micah Bernard’s return to the field after missing all but the Florida game in 2023 due to an off-the-field injury was a huge positive. Not just for Utah, but for Bernard himself.

Bernard had just nine carries for 31 yards, but he was also the only Ute to score all game long.

Additionally, Bernard appeared to get stronger as the game went on. Not bad for missing three months of football.

“It was amazing, it was a blessing,” Berard said of being back out on the field. “I’ll take the positive out of this. We lost the game. I hate losing, but just to be out there playing the game that I love after three long months- I’m blessed and thankful. I’m happy with the way I came out after only three weeks of practice. Wish it could have gone the other way, but this is a win for me.”

As it turned out, not only did the Utes need Bernard simply because of his touchdown, but also because primary running back Ja’Quinden Jackson went down in the second quarter with an injury and did not return for the rest of the game. Bernard helped pick up the slack along with Jaylon Glover.

Takeaway #2: Utah’s Defense Did Their Thing

While the Utah offense was wildly disappointing, Utah’s defense mostly balled out and did their thing.

They held Northwestern to 14 points and 291 yards of total offense.

The entire unit accounted for three sacks, six tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.

Those stats are usually good enough to get the win when you have some production on the other side of the ball.

Linebacker Levani Damuni probably had his best game as a Ute with 12 total tackles and .5 sack.

Cornerback Zemaiah Vaughn and linebacker Karene Reid really stepped up with eight tackles apiece, with Vaughn adding .5 sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.

In his first official start, freshman Jonathan Hall contributed five tackles, one sack, and one tackle for loss.

There is a lot to be excited about moving forward with this unit, even with safeties Sione Vaki and Cole Bishop moving on to the NFL.

“We’ve just got to find ways to become closer,” linebacker Karene Reid said of preparing for next year. “It’s so easy to lose and go into your own corner and sulk. We’ve got to find ways to build those relationships and become closer as not just teammates, but as friends. When adversity hits, it’s all about how much do I love the man next to me? Next year, that is going to be my focus.”

Takeaway No. 3: The Great Unknown

Utah football will now be moving into the great unknown.

In 2024 they will belong to the Big 12 Conference.

 

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They will have a lot of opportunity ahead of them (provided there are no injury repeats of 2023), but they will also have a lot to figure out too.

“I told the guys in the locker room, they have a lot to be proud of,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said of Utah’s ability to battle through injuries in 2023. “We found a way to win eight games this year in a very competitive Pac-12 Conference with two other Power Five schools in our schedule in Florida and Baylor. In a way, remarkable how they did in the course of the regular season. It’s not what any of us had in mind as we were going through the offseason last year and preparing. We thought a three-peat was very realistic, but it didn’t turn out to be. Given the adversity they faced, I thought they handled that very well and to get here with an 8-4 record was very commendable. Today was forgettable. We’ve got to bury this one and move on because this- there was no positive in this game. At least I can’t see it right now.”

The team *should* look fairly familiar.

The venues will be different.

The opponents will be different.

The setup will be different.

The ability to realize the College Football Playoff dream will be greater.

Sure, 2023 was disappointing. There is no denying that, but 2024 is full of opportunity unknown.

Only 250 days till we find out what exactly that looks like.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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