Utah Utes football: Utah's chances rest on shoulders of QB Jordan Wynn
SALT LAKE CITY — A fourth of the roster and 12 starters are California-grown, yet the pressure of Utah's first Pac-12 Conference game at USC rests squarely on the right shoulder of Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn.
And Wynn knows it's time to let it fly after hearing criticism, even from his own coach.
"It doesn't get a whole lot better as far as a stage," Wynn said of Saturday's historic road game at the Coliseum.
"I've just really got to cut loose. It's no secret that's what needs to be done. ... I've just got to throw the ball harder and farther and let it loose. That's kind of my game. I picture myself as a gunslinger, just letting it rip. I didn't really do that (against Montana State)."
Against Montana State on Thursday night, Wynn said he was trying to be safe. The result, in coach Kyle Whittingham's assessment, was a passing game that looked abysmal and sluggish.
Wynn completed 15 of 23 passes but for only 101 yards in a 27-10 victory over the Big Sky team.
"To win games in this conference, you've got to have more production in the throw game," Whittingham said Tuesday while discussing Utah's first-ever Pac-12 game.
Wynn is coming off a December surgery on his right shoulder but Whittingham said there is nothing medically wrong with his quarterback.
He said an offense under the direction of former USC and UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow simply has to "dial up" more shots down the field.
And Wynn needs to get over a mental hurdle.
"Jordan has got to gain confidence in his arm," Whittingham said. "It's not a physical thing now. It's a mental thing. Anybody that's had surgery, whether it be a knee or shoulder, there's a period of time where you've got to (realize), 'Hey, it's better. I can do this. I can cut loose. I can throw the football the way I want to without worrying if there's going to be a twinge of pain or some setback.'
"That's where Jordan is at right now. He's battling through that psychologically. ... It's just a matter of getting over that hump mentally."
He won't get any sympathy from the Trojans D, head coach Lane Kiffin or defensive guru Monte Kiffin, who helped guide Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl victory in 2002.
USC returns seven defensive starters on a unit Wynn sees as laden with "NFL talent" across the board, including ends who run 4.5 40s.
"It will be a tough task, but it's nothing impossible by any means. But it definitely will be tough," said Wynn, a junior who is 12-4 as a starter.
Utah may have plenty of California connections, but doesn't have history on its side.
The Utes have scored just two points in three games against USC in the Coliseum — those coming in a 1925 game that preceded shutouts in 1932 and 1948.
Plenty of attention has been focused on the Utes since their jump from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 was announced last year.
While they earned kudos for being the original BCS buster, they'll have to earn their keep every week, starting with the Trojans.
USC is ineligible for the conference crown because of NCAA sanctions, and is coming off an 8-5 season. And Saturday's less-than-impressive 19-17 victory over Minnesota dropped the Trojans out of the Top 25.
But to the Utes, they are still USC, one of the most storied teams in history, with 11 national championships, playing at a venerable site.
"For USC fans, the Coliseum is one of the most sacred places ever," said Utah linebacker Brian Blechen of Moorpark, Calif., who grew up going to USC-UCLA tailgate parties.
"Playing in that stadium will be historical and will be a good opportunity for all of us," he said.
Especially Wynn, who already has taken a wicked hit on the field since surgery. He just needs to get his mind right.
"I've got to kind of plunge into it and not look back," Wynn said. "I'm going to cut loose and hopefully it ends well."
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