Utah Utes football: Defense dominates Utes' second scrimmage
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's defense flexed its muscle in Tuesday morning's scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium — racking up 12 sacks, four pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception.
The dominating performance added up to trouble for quarterbacks Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays, who lost a combined 82 yards on the ground.
"We're not very good pass protecting right now. That's an issue for us," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "That's probably our biggest issue at this point and time — protecting the quarterback."
David Rolf led the way with three sacks, while Derrick Shelby and Joe Kruger each had two. Nai Fotu, Nate Fakahafua, Dave Fagergren, LT Tuipulotu, Jacoby Hale and Tevita Finau added one apiece.
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake noted there a was blitz package going in, but credited the coverage of the corners and safeties for going hand-in-hand with the work of the defensive line.
"I think both of them performed very well today," Sitake said.
Defensive lineman Ron Tongaonevai made two tackles-for-loss. Chaz Walker, Lei Talamaivao, Dave Kruger, Joape Pela, Boo Andersen, Mo Lee, Fagergren, Tuipulotu, Hale and Rolf also made stops behind the line scrimmage.
The defense also produced a pair of turnovers — linebacker Brian Blechen intercepted quarterback Jordan Wynn and Finau recovered a fumble.
Whittingham attributed the defense's success to three things: spotty pass protection, good coverage in the secondary and an effective pass rush.
The offense wasn't all bad, however.
Wynn completed 9-of-16 passes for 120 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown toss to Dres Anderson. Backup Jon Hays was 9-of-10 for 76 yards.
Tauni Vakapuna led the ground game with 48 yards on eight carries and Jake Murphy topped 11 receivers with three catches for 47 yards. Running back Harvey Langi and fullback Karl Williams had short touchdown runs in red-zone work. Kicker Coleman Petersen made a pair of field goals, connecting from 27 and 28 yards.
"I think there was some improvement," Whittingham said. "We moved the ball pretty good offensively, but then we had a melt-down in the situational aspect of the scrimmage."
And that, he added, simply can't happen.
The Utes turned the ball over in four-minute and two-minute situations, taking sacks and penalties in the latter.
"You've got to be great in situational football and tactical football in order to win championships," Whittingham said. "And we're a long ways away right now."
The Utes, who are in the midst of a challenging final week of camp that includes three doubles days and a pair of scrimmages, are a bit banged up — especially along an injury depleted offensive line.
That, however, doesn't make the shortcomings acceptable to Whittingham.
"Whoever's in there has got to play. Nobody cares if you're hurt and beat up. There's people all over the country that are hurt and beat up," he said. "You've got to be able to get it done. Whether you've got to modify your scheme, whatever you've got to do to get it done. So there's never any excuse. We've just got to get it done."
A hip pointer kept running back John White IV, the depth chart leader, out of the scrimmage. Vakapuna solidified his spot as the No. 2 guy by averaging 6 yards per carry. Other candidates Langi and Palamo didn't fare so well. Langi netted eight yards on seven carries and Palamo was credited with just one yard on 10 attempts.
"We had some good plays and we had some bad plays," Vakapuna said. "Simply put, we still have work to do."
The offense, he added, just needs to clean things up to get better.
"In my opinion, we did a lot of good things," said wide receiver DeVonte Christopher. "The first two drives we drove the ball real well."
Both resulted in scores.
Wynn noted improvement from the first scrimmage in terms of moving the ball early and the elimination of center-quarterback exchange fumbles.
"We've just got to clean up some situational stuff," he said while noting that the offense responded to Whittingham assessment that Monday afternoon's practice was the poorest by the offense in camp. "I think we came out and did what we needed to do. We sat down and talked about it. We've just got to keep going."
Whittingham saw improvement, for the most part. He said the offense ran the ball OK and couldn't remember seeing any dropped passes.
It was the finish, however, that left him disappointed.
"We did not turn the ball over at all until the end the game — which is a positive in one respect but a huge negative in another," Whittingham said. "So we took care of the football until crunch time. We've got to get that corrected."
As for Wynn, Whittingham offered a blunt initial assessment of the starting quarterback's performance in the scrimmage.
"I'll have to look at the numbers, but not spectacular I'm sure of that. Pretty average performance I guess you'd say just at first glance," Whittingham said. "We'll have to watch the film and see what was going on with the route structure and see where there was to go with the football, if any place."
Utah camp report
DAY 11: The Utes scrimmaged Tuesday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
STANDOUTS: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Dave and Joe Kruger played well, as did Nate Fakahafua. The defense made 12 sacks in the scrimmage.
INJURIES: Running back John White missed the scrimmage with a sore hip. He is expected to resume practicing within a couple of days.
NEXT UP: The second-to-last double day of camp is scheduled for Wednesday.
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