Utah Utes football: Reeling Utes have a bye before hosting USC
Tom Smart, Deseret News
TEMPE, Ariz. — Got worries? Utah coach Kyle Whittingham does. He acknowledged such after the Utes' 37-7 loss at Arizona State Saturday.
Aside from the play of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Whittingham said he's concerned about everything else.
The reasons are plentiful. The Utes (2-2, 0-1) didn't do much of anything well in their Pac-12 opener.
"Did I see that coming? No," Whittingham said. "We knew we were up against a very good football team but we were never really in the game."
The Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0) scored on their first five possessions to pull away early. It was 21-0 after one quarter and 31-7 at halftime. By game's end, ASU racked up 512 yards against Utah's highly touted defense.
"They got a couple of quick scores and I think we couldn't weather the storm," said safety Brian Blechen, who added that the Utes kept shooting themselves in the foot and made uncharacteristic mistakes.
"We need to get back into our groove. We need to play Utah defense that we usually play," said defensive tackle Dave Kruger. "We don't play like this. How we played tonight as a defense was not coach Whittingham defense."
As such, Kruger noted there are a lot of things to work on during a bye week that precedes an Oct. 4 home game against USC.
Utah's offense also has an extensive list of things to do before facing the Trojans. The Utes turned the ball over three times (two fumbles, one interception) and managed only 209 yards and 10 first downs at ASU. Running back John White was kept in check, netting only 18 yards on 14 carries.
"The seams were there. I just wasn't hitting them. I was thinking too much and I feel like I just didn't do my job," White said while dismissing the ankle injury that kept him out of the BYU game a week earlier. "I feel like I'm fine. I just didn't execute. I wasn't a playmaker out there."
Quarterback Jon Hays, who completed 10-of-15 passes for 117 yards, blamed himself for missing a couple of checks. He also noted the need to make more plays and get out of the pocket more.
Pass protection was also a problem. Hays was sacked three times and backup Travis Wilson was dropped once.
Shortcomings in execution were plentiful — so much so that Hays compared it to last season's 34-10 loss at California. The Utes turned the ball over four times that day.
"We've just got to bounce back and definitely rededicate ourselves — start working on the small things because that's what beat us tonight," said Hays, who expressed a need for the players to bond together because it's "gut-check time."
The bye week, Hays continued, will give the Utes time to work on fundamentals a little bit and game plan for USC.
Whittingham also said the timing of the bye is good.
"We've got the University of Southern California Trojans coming to town. So this game is relentless. It's brutal. It doesn't wait for anybody," he said. "No one feels sorry for you. It keeps coming at you and it's going to be coming at us in 12 days. We better be ready to answer the bell."
The USC game is part of a pivotal scheduling stretch that is followed by road trips to UCLA and Oregon State. Utah's hopes of contending for the Pac-12 South title weigh in the balance.
Whittingham is confident the Utes are better than their showing at ASU.
"We're not as deficient and as outmatched as we were tonight," he said. "We should be more competitive than we were tonight."
On the bright side, Whittingham noted that nobody quit and the Utes kept fighting until the end. Even so, he credited ASU for having a great scheme and a very good football team.
Utah played without two injured starters on defense — lineman Joe Kruger (foot) and safety Eric Rowe (hamstring) — but had Blechen in the line-up for the first time this season after serving a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The junior made six tackles in his 2012 debut.
"I was a little nervous going into the first drive. It's been a while," Blechen said. "Once I was going after a couple of series I just felt like myself back out there."
EXTRA POINTS: Fullback Karl Williams led Utah with five receptions for 49 yards. Kenneth Scott was the only other Ute with more than one catch . . . Kelvin York finished with a game-high 86 yards rushing on 13 carries . . . Jacoby Hale was Utah's leading tackler with eight stops . . . Trevor Reilly topped the defense with 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.
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