SAN FRANCISCO — Utah's offense is doing very little — and lots of it — these days. The only points they're making involve futility.
In Saturday's 34-10 setback to California, the Utes managed just 178 yards and 11 first downs. Before scoring a touchdown on their final drive of the game, they punted six times and turned the ball over on four occasions as quarterback Jon Hays struggled mightily in his third career star. He was intercepted three times and fumbled once.
The junior acknowledged that he might be the biggest issue on Utah's floundering attack.
"The offense is going to go as I go," Hays said. "So I've got to get better."
Since replacing the injured Jordan Wynn midway through the Washington game on Oct. 1, Hays has led the offense to just five touchdowns in 3 1/2 games — only four more than the defense, who reached the end zone on Derrick Shelby's interception return against Pitt.
When asked if the Utes could put points on the board with Hays at quarterback, head coach Kyle Whittingham gave a blunt response following the loss to Cal.
"Not tonight. We didn't tonight and we didn't last week and we didn't the week before, but we'll keep trying. We'll keep working," Whittingham said. "He gives us the best chance to win right now and we've just got to keep trying to find ways and situations to put him in to be successful. That's our job as coaches to do that and that's what we've got to do."
Although newly designated backup Griff Robles did quarterback the Utes for a series, it failed to ignite a spark and Hays was re-inserted into the game. He wound up completing 11-of-22 passes for 148 yards. Four turnovers and an equal number of sacks added to his ineffectiveness.
"We've got to watch the tape but he made some throws that were not great decisions," Whittingham said. "As coaches, we've got to put him in whatever situation we've got to put him in to help him be successful."
Whittingham, however, insists the current issues on offense aren't just at quarterback.
"I'm not trying to pin anything on Jon Hays. I mean, it's a team deal. It's a coaching issue more than anything else," he explained. "We've got to do a better job coaching the game (and) coaching from Monday to Friday."
The issues are plentiful. While noting that the offense was anemic at Cal, Whittingham reeled off shortcomings such as an inability to run the ball, inadequate pass protection and the turnovers.
"Nothing good happened," he said in identifying the problems.
Nine Utah series consisted of five plays or less. Five produced single-digit yardage and two wound up in the negative.
The ground game was pretty well grounded. The Utes had minus-3 yards rushing before picking up 16 on their final drive of the game. John White IV capped things off with a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:06 left to play.
"Our goal this week was to score in the red zone. How many times did we get in the red zone? Like twice," White said. "We've got to be able to move the ball down the field. We've got to be able to do all the things we want to do. We can't let people stop us from doing that. We've got to fight."
White, who entered the game averaging 111.8 yards per game, was held to 39 on 15 carries by the Bears.
Whittingham said there's a "plethora" of issues the Utes face over the next six days and the coaching staff will work their tails off and address them. Hays is determined to do his part.
"It's on me," he noted.
Whittingham isn't surprised by the quarterback's approach.
"He's a tough kid. He's competitive. Nobody feels worse about it than Jon. He's very resilient — at least that's how he's been in the past," Whittingham said. "I expect him to come back with great attitude on Monday."
Utes on the air
Oregon State (2-5)
at Utah (3-4)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company