Utah Utes football: U. not harping on turnover issues

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011 9:32 p.m. MDT

Jon Hays and the Utes hope to end their turnover troubles Saturday at Pitt.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Posters on the front wall of the Utah football team meeting room stress the importance of avoiding turnovers.

For example, "Take care of the football" is the No. 2 rule for Ute players on the "Plan to Win" sign.

"Lock," "Load" and "Finish" are the major points on a separate "Ball Security" placard.

Considering the trend, it's surprising those guidelines aren't underlined or freshly highlighted with bright colors. Or made into a handout.

Even without additional extra emphasis, it's no secret that 10 combined turnovers against Washington and Arizona State are at the root of a growing problem this Pac-12 newcomer would like to nip in the bud.

"It's just something that we've got to tighten up," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday, two days after five turnovers led to the demise of his squad's second-half lead and an eerily similar second-straight blowout home loss to a conference foe.

Though Utah has had seven more turnovers in its past two games than it had in the first three contests — three total vs. Montana State, USC and BYU — Whittingham said the team will not spend extra practice time while preparing for Pittsburgh to rectify its troubling tendency.

"We've done every drill known to man and we always do every week, whether we turn the ball over excessively or we take great care of the ball," Whittingham said. "We practice it the same way. We pay very close attention to it, and that won't change."

Though it's been an Achilles heel of late, Whittingham doesn't want unnecessary extra attention paid to turnover issues that resulted in a 35-14 loss to Arizona State and a 31-14 whooping by Washington. Players are well aware of recent shortcomings, and he doesn't want them focusing on that negative aspect.

"Sometimes you talk too much about it, (and) it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where everyone's on pins and needles. You can't let it get to that point," Whittingham said. "You've just got to be fundamentally sound on how you carry the football, and that's something we work on each and every week."

Do as the signs admonish, in other words.

"We've just got to do the little things," new Utah starting quarterback Jon Hays said, "tucking the ball away, two hands on contact, keeping it high and tight."

And, yes, throw it to the guys sporting your colors.

After his first Utah start, Hays admitted all three interceptions against ASU "gnaw at me," especially because two could've been touchdowns and the other a first-down play.

"I've just got to be smarter with the decisions I make in the pass game," Hays said.

Specifically?

"I think I took some chances when I shouldn't have," the junior-college transfer said. "I should've checked the ball down a few times. I've just got to get better this week."

But improvement isn't only needed from the offensive side of the ball when it comes to turnovers.

The U. defense was among the national leaders in takeaways following the first three games of the season, when it pestered opponents into committing a combined 12 turnovers (including, of course, the seven against BYU).

Since then, Utah has only caused one turnover — and none Saturday — in back-to-back blowout losses at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"Coach talked about that after the game," U. defensive lineman Dave Kruger said. "We didn't have any (takeaways) as far as defense. Yeah, sure we played good, but turnovers are crucial as far as helping win games. … We need to (cause) more turnovers, for sure."

As far as his own team's TO woes, the junior was adamant the defense isn't pointing fingers at the offense.

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