Tom Smart, Deseret News
In Utah's five victories this year, the defense has been the most consistent factor. In four of the five games, the Utes have allowed fewer than 50 yards rushing and they rank No. 5 in the nation in both rushing defense and total defense.
The U. offense has been pretty good, ranking 43rd in rushing offense, 35th in passing offense and 28th in total offense and 16th in scoring offense. But anyone who has watched the Utes this year has noticed it always hasn't been a smooth ride.
There have been too many turnovers, too many sacks and too many stalled drives against inferior competition. In easy wins over Utah State and Weber State, the Utes had to settle for three field goals in each game.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig declined to be interviewed Monday after practice, so head coach Kyle Whittingham talked about the offense so far this year and gave it a tentative thumbs up.
"Throughout a game, there are times when we are efficient and times when we are not efficient," he said. "But overall when you judge the games as a whole, our numbers are decent. The things that have been out of line are the turnovers and the sacks allowed."
The Utes rank near the bottom in the national stats in sacks allowed at No. 103, are tied for 93rd in turnovers lost and are tied for 69th in turnover margin.
Whittingham said the Utes improved Saturday against Weber State in allowing just one turnover and one sack. Whittingham said the sack problem is a combination of three things.
"Sometimes we hold the ball too long, sometimes our protection's broken down and sometimes the route structure has been very poor and we're not getting open," he said. "So it's not any one of those three areas, just a combination."
Senior quarterback Brian Johnson, who has thrown five interceptions, fumbled four times and been sacked 12 times, hasn't been pleased with his own performance in several instances this year.
"The thing about offensive football is that you have to have 11 guys playing together on every snap," he said. "We have to be on the same page offensively and find that rhythm and play consistently for an entire game. There's no better week to do it than this week."
GETTING TRICKY: The Utes have always utilized a variety of trick plays under Whittingham and Ludwig. But some fans question why they "wasted" a double-reverse pass from receiver Jereme Brooks to quarterback Corbin Louks against Weber State last week.
Whittingham explained that it benefits his offense to run more trick plays whenever possible.
"Trick plays have long-term benefits," he said. "It's not just the play at the moment. You run a couple of fake punts and the rest of the year, people slow down on the punt rush.
"People get a misconception that when you run a trick play you burn an opportunity. You actually utilize an opportunity and they have a long-term basis. It keeps (the defense) on their toes."
DYNAMIC DUO: At the start of the year, Ute coaches said they wanted to play both Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata this year and called the pair 1 and 1A.
So far the combination couldn't be working out much better. After five games, Asiata has one more yard than Mack 320 to 319, while Mack has one more carry 65 to 64.
"To this point, we're getting about 125 yards a week out of the tailback position," Whittingham said. "It's tough to get through the season with one back and we're fortunate to have two of them.EXTRA POINTS: Starting offensive guard Robert Conley, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, is expected to play Thursday. Whittingham says the team is as healthy as it's been all season ... In last year's Oregon State game, both Johnson and Asiata went down with injuries ... Utah ranks No. 3 in the nation in time of possession at 35:05 ... Oregon State coach Mike Riley has a 49-40 mark in eight seasons at OSU and a 5-2 record against ranked teams ... Utah is 4-9-1 all time against Oregon State with its last win coming in 1992 by a 42-9 score.
Utah on the air
Oregon State (2-2) at
at No. 15 Utah (5-0)
Thursday, 7 p.m.
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