Utah Utes football: Coach Kyle Whittingham disappointed but determined
Whittingham is optimistic about the future. He’s expecting some of last year’s redshirts to step in right away and contribute. In addition, Whittingham said the upcoming recruiting class is shaping up to be pretty good.
OFFENSE: Whittingham said the Utes are on the right track as far as getting some continuity at quarterback. Wilson gained valuable experience while starting the final seven games. He’ll have the team’s top three receivers back next season — Dres Anderson, Jake Murphy and Kenneth Scott.
Even so, Whittingham acknowledged things need to be more efficient..
“We didn’t get enough production out of the throw game,” he said.
As for the ground scheme, Whittingham said that it was just OK.
“We had a 1,000-yard rusher and that was great for John White to get to that milestone,” he said. “But we need to be more productive overall in the run game than we were this year.”
Whittingham, however, was pleased that the Utes did a good job taking care of the football.
It wasn’t enough, though, to overshadow the negatives.
“We had offensive struggles throughout the course of the season,” Whittingham said. “That’s no secret. Like I’ve said, we’ve got to get better offensively and be more consistent.”
At 25, Brian Johnson was the nation’s youngest offensive coordinator.
DEFENSE: Whittingham identified Utah’s two biggest issues on defense as a lack of takeaways and red zone defense. The Utes ranked sixth in the Pac-12 with 14 fumble recoveries and eight interceptions. They were eighth in red zone defense, giving up scores in 36-of-43 situations.
“When you’re not taking the ball away and giving your offense short fields and when you’re not tough in the red zone that usually leads to some difficulties,” Whittingham said.
A lack of continuity at linebacker also proved troublesome. Whittingham said that the Utes weren’t as productive in the middle because a variety of different line-ups had to be used. The group, largely comprised of freshmen and sophomores, lacked experience, and the learning curve took longer than anticipated. He’s confident they’ll continue to develop and become a strength.
On the line, Whittingham said highly touted defensive tackle Star Lotulelei played as advertised and that sophomore defensive end Nate Fakahafua progressed as the season went on.
“I think the defensive line played well, even though we maybe didn’t get the sack totals we were looking for,” Whittingham said. “We played the run extremely well.”
As for the secondary, Whittingham acknowledged that losing starting safety Brian Blechen for the first three games because of a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules was “not ideal” and “certainly didn’t help our cause.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: When it comes to returning kicks, nobody did it better than Utah’s Reggie Dunn. The senior returned four kickoffs 100 yards for touchdowns this season — upping his career total to five in the process.
Whittingham acknowledged it was tremendous.
“It may be many, many years before anybody approaches the records that he set both this season and in his career,” said Whittingham, who noted that senior punter Sean Sellwood and Utah’s ability to pin opponents inside the 20 were other strengths on special teams.
Even so, Whittingham called it a mixed bag.
“I thought we did a lot of good things but we also make a lot of costly, critical mistakes,” he said.
The Utes lose their specialists to graduation and Whittingham acknowledged that they’re in the process of retooling the entire special teams.
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