We've still got a lot to play for ... I think we've taken steps forward the last three weeks and we need to take another step forward. —Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham
CORVALLIS, Ore. — As Utah attempts to avoid a second consecutive 0-4 start in Pac-12 play, head coach Kyle Whittingham vows the Utes will keep on competing and become a better football team.
"We've still got a lot to play for. The season is only at the halfway point and our guys are working hard," Whittingham said. "I think we've taken steps forward the last three weeks and we need to take another step forward."
Utah (2-4, 0-3) enters tonight's game at eighth-ranked Oregon State on a skid, losing consecutive conference games to Arizona State (37-7), USC (38-28) and UCLA (21-14). In the midst of the setbacks, the Utes introduced more spread elements to a stagnant offense and last week switched starting quarterbacks — replacing senior Jon Hays with true freshman Travis Wilson.
"There no doubt — in our minds, anyways — that we're doing the things now that are best suited to our personnel and to us," Whittingham said. "It's important that we see Travis take another step forward this week."
Wilson completed 22-of-33 passes for 220 yards in his starting debut. Whittingham acknowledged the staff was pleased with Wilson's initial performance and is hopeful that the switch will lead to a more consistent pattern offensively.
Whittingham added that improved line play, both in pass protection and in the run game, is another reason for optimism. So, too, are the schematic alterations. Spreading things out a bit, he explained, suits the Utes best.
"I think as the offense gains confidence and continues to rep the things we've been doing lately hopefully we'll get more production," Whittingham said.
Getting the ball in the hands of running backs John White and Kelvin York more often is also part of the plan.
"You have to modify your plan as per your quarterback and I think we've done a good job tailoring plans to the quarterback that's available to us and who we're going with," Whittingham said of the decision to spread things out. "Barring unforeseen things, we think we're headed down the path that we think is best for us."
Point production has been a problem during the three-game losing streak. The offense has managed just five touchdown drives. Utah's defense and the punt cover unit each have one.
"Have we been productive enough yet? No. Not by any stretch," Whittingham said. "We've been abysmal at times but we've got to keep working and keep trying to find answers."
The Pac-12, however, has proven to be a tough training ground. Utah is just 4-8 in conference games since joining the league last season. Facing an Oregon State team seeking its first 6-0 start since 1907 is just the next test for the Utes.
"Facing this kind of competition week in and week out is what the Pac-12 Conference is all about," Whittingham said.
NOTES: Utah commits California wide receiver
Dominique Hatfield, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound wide receiver at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, has accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Utah. Hatfield, who is also a starting cornerback, made 33 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.
Lotulelei, Sellwood make midseason All-American teams
Ute senior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has upped his total of midseason honors to three with his selection to the Sporting News and CBSSports.com midseason All-America teams. Last week, Lotulelei was named a first-team midseason All-American by Phil Steele Publications.
Also named to the CBSSports.com midseason All-America team was Ute punter Sean Sellwood. The senior leads the nation in punt average (48.4) and has been ranked either first or second in the nation for the past six weeks.
Utes on the air
Utah (2-4, 0-3)
at No. 8 Oregon State (5-0, 3-0)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.