Utah football: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledges 2013 was a frustrating year for Utes

Published: Monday, Dec. 9 2013 6:00 p.m. MST

“It’s disappointing, very disappointing,” Whittingham said. “So that’s probably the best way I can describe it.”

The situation, he noted, is being addressed.

“There’s only one thing you can do — just keep working as hard as you can and keep trying to improve,” Whittingham said. “That’s whether you have a great or a horrible year. You’ve got to approach the offseason with the same intensity and work ethic regardless. So that really doesn’t change.”

OFFENSE: Whittingham said that backup quarterback Adam Schulz showed a lot of poise, leadership and toughness in his three starts in place of the injured Wilson. Schulz, who also saw action in three other games, finished the season with 1,008 yards passing. The sophomore completed 75 of 154 passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions.

After the season finale against Colorado, however, Whittingham noted that if Wilson is unable to return “there will be a quarterback competition this spring.” Three freshmen quarterbacks (Brandon Cox, Conner Manning and Micah Thomas) redshirted this season.

As for protecting the quarterbacks, Whittingham noted that the offensive line was a little bit inconsistent this season and that he expected more out of the guys overall — explaining that they played very well some weeks and not so well in others.

Whittingham said the running backs were much like the offensive line. They had some good games but were not as productive as they needed to be. Sophomore Bubba Poole topped the team with 607 yards rushing.

Anderson became the seventh player in program history to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season. The junior carried a big load after teammate Kenneth Scott was injured in the season opener against Utah State.

Despite Anderson’s big numbers, Whittingham said the Utes need to get better at wide receiver. He added that the position group has to be more productive and have more impact in games. Building depth is a priority.

The Utes thought tight end was going to a be position of strength, Whittingham added, until injuries sidelined both Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga at one point. Murphy eventually returned from a broken wrist and did a lot of good things over the final three games. Both could be back next season.

DEFENSE: Utah finished the season tied with Ohio State for the national lead in total sacks with 39. Whittingham was also pleased with the Utes’ run defense, which he called “stout.” Utah ranked third in the Pac-12, allowing just 130.3 yards per game on the ground.

Whittingham said that Reilly, Palepoi and Nate Orchard performed well on the defensive line. He added that all the guys that played up front did a nice job this season.

Linebacker proved to be another position of strength. Whittingham noted that it may be the most improved position on the team. He was especially pleased with the production of Jason Whittingham, Jacoby Hale, Jared Norris and Reilly, who split time between linebacker and defensive end.

“We expect that position to take another step forward next year,” Whittingham said.

As for the secondary, Whittingham acknowledged that a lack of interceptions really hurt the Utes this season. They wound up picking off just three, despite having 12-15 opportunities that were just dropped.

“We’ve got to finish those plays,” said Whittingham, who explained that it was frustrating because the players worked hard in practice. But, for whatever reason, they were “snake bit” when it came to picking off passes.

McGill was a bright spot with 12 pass breakups, the most by any Utah defensive back since Eric Weddle had a dozen back in 2005. Whittingham also pointed out that Reggie Porter, Justin Thomas and Eric Rowe made some big plays in the secondary as well.

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