PASADENA, Calif. — Pac-12 football hasn't been kind to the Utah Utes. Since joining the conference last year, they're just 4-8 in league games.
The latest loss — a 21-14 decision to UCLA Saturday in the Rose Bowl — extended a skid of Pac-12 setbacks to four dating back to last season.
A lack of production on offense and missed tackles on defense led to Utah falling to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in conference play as the 2012 campaign hits its midway point. With a trip to nationally ranked Oregon State on the horizon, the Utes are in serious danger of losing their first four league games for the second straight season — not exactly what was expected from a team picked to finish right behind USC in the Pac-12 South.
"We're definitely frustrated. We don't like losing at all and we don't want to get used to it," said senior cornerback Ryan Lacy. "We've been trying to work on it. Of course, losing is frustrating. We've just got to come together as a team and see what we can do to turn this season around."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that the Utes have to get better in a lot of areas — play smarter and be more productive. In an effort to jumpstart a stagnant offense, true freshman Travis Wilson replaced senior Jon Hays as the starting quarterback against UCLA. He completed 23-of-33 passes for 220 yards. Hays wound up with Utah's only touchdown pass, hooking with Dres Anderson on a fourth down play late in the game. Wilson lost his helmet on the previous snap and had to sit out a play as per NCAA rules.
Running back John White only had 11 carries for 44 yards as the Utes struggled offensively. The senior captain acknowledged execution has been a problem.
"You've got to do everything right," White said. "Everybody has to do their 1/11th. When everybody's doing that, we have success."
Utah's only score early on was on a fumble recovery by Ryan Lacy in the end zone on a muffed punt return by UCLA.
White noted that not being able to put points on the board offensively in the first half was pretty bad.
"We've got to figure out a way to get this offense moving," White said.
Utah's defense also had its shortcomings, most notably trying to slow UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman completed 15-of-21 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 68 yards with a score.
"He was getting away. There's really no explanation for it," Lacy said. "We missed tackles and he gets away."
Utah's inability to get things done at UCLA has put the Utes in a hole like last season. Lacy noted there's a similar feeling. Even though he felt they played their hearts out on Saturday, the senior cornerback admits the team is in need of a win.
"Man, we've just got to come out and play," Lacy said. "We've got to dig down deep, do some soul searching to see what we can do next week (and) turn it around."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham insists progress is being made. He said that this year's team is more competitive than the 2011 squad that bounced back from an 0-4 start to finish 4-5 in Pac-12 play. The Utes went on to defeat Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
"I think we're a better football team than we were last year. I can say that without hesitation," Whittingham said. "The win-loss record doesn't really say that. You are who and what your record says you are. That's the bottom line. But I feel like we're closer to competing on a weekly basis in this conference."
Whittingham referenced last season's blowout losses at home to Arizona State and Washington as measuring sticks that improvement is being made.
Transitioning into the Pac-12, obviously, is an ongoing challenge for Utah.
"This is a good conference. We knew that going in," Whittingham said. "I've said that for going on two years now. Every single week you better get ready to play and you better bring your 'A' game, particularly on the road. There's some tough venues to play in."
EXTRA POINTS: Senior punter Sean Sellwood had two punts in excess of 50 yards, upping his career total to 48 — putting him in a tie for second on Utah's all-time list with Marv Bateman . . . Anderson topped the Utes with nine catches for 70 yards . . . Senior receiver DeVonte Christopher completed a 23-yard pass to Wilson on a reverse during Utah's only scoring drive. The former quarterback, who had four receptions against the Bruins, has completed 3-of-4 passes for 40 yards in his career . . . Junior safety Brian Blechen finished with a team-high eight tackles . . . Lacy's fumble recovery for a touchdown was Utah's third such special teams score of the season. The Utes also picked up points that way against BYU and USC.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company