Score more touchdowns. That’s the issue. We don’t want to settle for field goals. Field goals are better than nothing. I don’t want to diminish the importance of a field goal, but touchdowns are what you’re striving for in the red zone. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to scoring in the red zone, the Utah Utes are feeling a little blue.
That’s saying something considering they’re 6-1 overall (3-1 in Pac-12 play) and ranked 18th in the nation.
However, as the Utes prepare for Saturday’s game at UCLA (2 p.m., FOX), head coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged there are “continued woes in the red zone.”
After seven games, Utah’s red zone offense ranks last in the Pac-12. The Utes are scoring at a 74.2 percent clip once inside the 20-yard line. Last season, they put points on the board 91.3 percent of the time — second-best rate in the conference.
“As coaches we can do a better job of putting them in better position to make plays and then as players they’ve got to make those plays,” Whittignham said. “So it’s just a combined effort and we’re working hard to do that.”
Statistical progress is being made. Since scoring on 3-of-5 situations in a loss at California on Oct. 1, Utah cashed in on 8-of-11 red zone opportunities over victories against Arizona and California.
“The bottom line is we’re finding ways to win,” Whittingham noted. “But we’re leaving a lot of points on the field, as I’ve said over and over throughout the last several weeks.”
Utah’s game-ending shortcoming in a 28-23 loss at Cal highlighted a problem. The Utes have a less-than-stellar touchdown percentage (.514). They’ve crossed the goal line from the red zone 18 times this season and kicked eight field goals.
“Score more touchdowns. That’s the issue,” Whittingham said. “We don’t want to settle for field goals. Field goals are better than nothing. I don’t want to diminish the importance of a field goal, but touchdowns are what you’re striving for in the red zone.”
Whittingham added that finding a solution is on the coaches.
“We’ve got to do a better job of putting our players in better positions to be successful in the red zone,” he said. “We’re working hard every week towards that end, devoting extra practice time — even more than we typically do.
“You hate to talk about it too much because then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you talk about it, the worse it gets,” Whittingham continued.
Although injuries have taken a toll on the offense — the Utes have lost starting center J.J. Dielman and rushing leader Armand Shyne for the season — co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick insists the team still has enough left in the tank to get the job done.
“There’s no excuses in this program. Nobody makes excuses,” Roderick said. “We’re going to find a way to win with whatever we’ve got.”
EXTRA POINTS: Utah tops the country in two categories — net punting (48.10) and time of possession (35:47) . . . Punter Mitch Wishnowsky is the national leader in punt average (49.1 yards) . . . Quarterback Troy Williams has not thrown an interception for 17 straight quarters . . . Junior Jordan Fogal, who is No. 1 on the depth chart this week at free safety in place of the injured Marcus Williams, had seven tackles and forced a fumble last week at Oregon State.
No. 18/19 Utah (6-1, 3-1) at UCLA (3-4, 1-3)
Saturday, 2 p.m. (MT)
Radio: ESPN 700AM