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Utah notebook: White's absence against BYU was truly a gametime decision, Whittingham says

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 7:41 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the big questions coming out of Saturday's game was why leading rusher and preseason all-Pac-12 running back John White didn't play for Utah after proclaiming himself "100 percent" in the middle of the week and chiding the media for asking why he missed a practice.

White didn't play a down after warming up with the team Saturday night, but on Monday, coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes weren't trying to fool anyone.

"I think he was being an optimist with the power of positive thinking," explained Whittingham "He was trying to convince himself that he was on track because he was making huge progress throughout the week and projecting that he was going to be able to play. But it wasn't the case."

According to quarterback Jon Hays, the team didn't even know until about 20 minutes before the game that White wouldn't be playing.

HAYS SHINES: Although three young Ute running backs — freshman Jarrell Oliver, sophomore Lucky Radley and JC transfer Kelvin York — all tried, they were ineffective running the ball against BYU, rushing for a combined 53 yards on 24 carries.

Whittingham called his running game "abysmal," but credited Hays for taking up the slack.

"With our inability to run the football, our ability to throw the football saved us," the Ute coach said. "Jon had an outstanding night — his efficiency rating was over 150. That was a bright spot on offense. Another bright spot was the offense's possession of the football with no turnovers."

WELL-RESTED: Whittingham said he expects to have his top players playing this week for the Pac-12 opener at Arizona State.

He said he expects not only White to be playing, but strong safety Brian Blechen will be back from his three-game suspension and he hopes to have free safety Eric Rowe back after sitting out with a hamstring injury.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Utah's Tom Hackett was named Pac-12 special teams player of the week. If you haven't heard of Hackett, you're not alone.

Hackett, a walk-on freshman from Australia who is playing football for the first time in America, is the Utes' specialty punter when the team is near midfield and needs a punt inside the 20.

Against BYU, Hackett put all three of his attempts inside the 10, giving the Cougars poor field possession, once at their own 5 and twice at the 8-yard line.

PLAYER OF GAME: Whittingham called preseason all-American defensive lineman Star Lotulelei the Utes' "player of the game."

"He was dominating from start to finish. … He played with a determination and a tenacity that you rarely see in a defensive lineman to have the stamina to play at the level he plays for 77 snaps or whatever it was."

"FANS" PENALTY: According to a university official on the field after the game, the game officials told him the 15-yard penalty after the blocked field goal was actually called on the Ute players and coaches for running on the field before the live ball was play was over, not the fans.

Which still brings up the question why BYU coaches and players on the field weren't penalized also.

SPECIAL TEAMS WOES: For the second straight game, the Utes had troubles with their punting team, which nearly cost them a victory.

Against Utah State, the Utes' blocking broke down on an early punt, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Against BYU, both of the Cougars' fourth-quarter touchdowns were set up because of punting mistakes — a shanked punt by Sean Sellwood that ended up on the Utah 33, and Sellwood getting tackled at the 14 when he was swarmed before he could get a punt away.

"We thought we had it figured out, but this particular one was a different issue (than the Utah State block)," Whittingham said. "We did have it picked up correctly and did have an errant snap, which pulled our guy over to the right a couple of feet. Usually something like that would go unnoticed, but when you have an all-out block on, it's going to expose that. That's still an area of concern and we need to spend a lot of time getting that fixed."

Email: sor@desnews.com

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