SALT LAKE CITY — It's hard to fathom that, just a year ago, the Utah football team was one of the nation's leaders in fewest sacks allowed.
Through seven games in 2010, the Utes had only allowed a grand total of three quarterback sacks.
And this year? Would you believe 21?
That puts the Utes clear back in a tie for 107th in the country with 3.0 sacks allowed per game, a year after averaging less than one sack per game. It's the most sacks per game average for a Ute team since giving up 39 sacks in 11 games in 1990, Ron McBride's first season.
Sacks are just one of many offensive problems the Utes have right now, but one that coach Kyle Whittingham is none too happy about. Although the offensive line play has been spotty this year, Whittingham isn't laying all the blame there.
"It's a combination of the offensive line, the quarterback, and blocking," he said. "At times (quarterback Jon) Hays holds the ball too long, at times the offensive line has had breakdowns, at times it's been the blocking. It's been the running backs missing blitz pickups. The tight ends are also involved, and the receivers are also involved if they run incorrect routes and there is no one open, that can be a factor."
Offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom agrees it's hard to pinpoint one reason for the Utes' propensity for sacks this year,
"It's a whole offense thing that creates sacks," Bergstrom said. "It's blitz pickup issues on the O-line, one-on-one issues on the O-line, assignment issues on the backs' part and (lack of) communication between the line and the backs."
The Utes have a new group of running backs this year, and Bergstrom said sometimes it's been hard for the backs to tell if the defender is an end or a tackle and sometimes they break through unblocked.
"It's little things that need to be cleaned up," Bergstrom said. "We just have to execute."
Ever since the start of camp, the O-line has had depth issues, partly because of injuries. Left guard Miles Mason was installed as a starter the week after he arrived at camp in late August, and Latu Heimuli was moved from the defensive side and is playing more each week.
However, Bergstrom doesn't believe lack of depth is the problem.
"Depth is never an issue with the O-line," he says. "It's always five guys out there. Guys are trying hard and trying to finish. It's the technical part of the game that's lacking a little bit."2 comments on this story
Then there's the lack of experience at quarterback. Although Jordan Wynn was sacked several times before he got hurt, the inexperienced Hays will sometimes hold onto the ball too long, rather than throw it away, and he may be hesitant to throw because of all the interceptions he's had this year.
Whatever the reasons, the Utes know they need to start avoiding sacks if they want to start winning games.
"We don't pin it on any one area, but we've been nowhere near as good as years past," said Whittingham. "We've got to get that corrected."
Utes on the air
Oregon State (2-5, 2-2 Pac-12)
at Utah (3-4, 0-4)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
TV: KJZZ, ROOT Sports NW
Radio: 700 AM