Tom Smart, Deseret News
LOS ANGELES — It doesn’t take a lot of scrutiny to figure out why the Utah Utes failed to pick up their first win at USC since 1916. Saturday’s 19-3 loss at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is pretty easy to diagnose.
A quick glance of the stat sheet pretty much says it all — no touchdowns, 201 yards of total offense, 13 first downs, six sacks surrendered, three interceptions and one lost fumble. Those stats paint a good picture of what Utah coach Kyle Whittingham referred to as the bottom line.
“If you play offense like that you really don’t have much of a chance to win,” he said.
Such was the case as the Utes fell to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play. Whittingham noted that their second consecutive loss left them feeling disappointed and a little bit discouraged entering a bye week.
Whittingham acknowledged that one big question to analyze is what to do quarterback-wise.
“We’ve got to answer that question,” he said.
Both Travis Wilson and Adam Schulz struggled against USC. Wilson, who played with a glove to protect a sprained index finger on his throwing hand, completed 5 of 14 passes for 51 yards. He was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. Schulz was 7 for 17 for 79 yards and also threw a pick.
“We’re going to take a long look at every option during this bye week,” Whittingham said. “Because if there is going to be any dramatic or drastic changes this is the time to do it.”
Whittingham admitted growing tired of the offensive struggles, vowing that everyone will keep working to find the answers to get better.
On Saturday, though, Whittingham gave a lot of credit to USC’s defense. He said the Trojans were the Pac-12’s top-ranked unit for good reason.
Schulz was also complimentary.
“I want to credit USC’s defense. They’re a very good defense,” he said. “They knew what they were doing and they were executing.”
Utah’s turnovers, though, were obviously troublesome to the Utes.
“It seemed liked they were one after another after another and there was four and that’s tough to overcome,” Whittingham said. “When you’re playing good people, which you do in this conference every single week, it kills you — unless you’re mismatched and you’ve got a far superior physically football team then you can overcome some of that stuff.
“But that’s not the case in this league. We’re not far superior physically than anybody in this conference,” he continued. “We’re just in there slugging away.”
It’s tough sledding if Whittingham’s inclinations are correct.
“This conference has gotten so much better over the last three years and I believe we’ve gotten better,” he said. “Maybe the conference as a whole has gotten better, relatively speaking, than maybe we have.”
Whatever the case may be, the Utes are determined to keep on working. They return to action Nov. 9 at home against Arizona State. Then comes a road trip to No. 2 Oregon.
“This group never quits. They fought until the bitter end. These guys have a great deal of character, a great deal of competitiveness, and I’m proud of them for that,” Whittingham said, “There’s nobody in that locker room that threw in the towel at any point. I don’t expect that to ever happen with this football team because they’re a tough group of guys.”
Schulz also considers the bye week a good opportunity for the Utes to work on a lot of things.
“The good thing is that we’re all together. We’re united and I don’t see us breaking apart,” he said. “We’re going to stick together. Our main goal is to get to a bowl game right now.”
To do so, Utah will need two wins over a season-ending schedule that in addition to the games against ASU and Oregon includes a road date at Washington State and a home finale with Colorado.
Linebacker Jared Norris said the Utes thought they would pick up their fifth win on Saturday.
“We honestly thought we were going to win this game today. There’s no doubt about it in our mind that we thought we were going to win,” he said. “But the outcome wasn’t what we planned for and there’s not much you can do. We’ve just got to keep playing.”
Like Schulz, Norris insists the Utes are unified.
“We’re all one unit. It doesn’t matter if the offense is playing bad (or) the defense is playing the bad,” Norris said. “The other one needs to make up for the other unit.”
And against USC, he noted that Utah lost the turnover margin. Senior captain Trevor Reilly had similar thoughts about the 4-0 takeaway differential.
“I think that was the big difference — that we didn’t get enough turnovers,” he said.
Norris added that the Utes are just coming up short in a couple of areas.
The offense, however, wasn’t happy about failing to score a touchdown in a game for the first time since the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl loss against Boise State.
“It’s really frustrating. I think our offense works super hard throughout the week and to not score is a huge letdown,” Wilson said. “That’s something that we’ve got to get corrected.”
Schulz also called it frustrating.
“We were all pretty juiced for this game. We were ready for it. We had a good week of preparation,” he said. “I think it just came down to a lack of execution. I think overall we know the burden is on us as an offense because we have to execute every play and I just don’t think we did that.”
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