SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has sent two sons on LDS missions and during his eight years as Ute head coach has usually had approximately a third of his team consisting of returned LDS missionaries.
So he was very interested to learn of the age change for LDS missionaries at this past weekend’s general conference. Whittingham believes the change will have an impact on his future teams and that it will be positive.
“It will certainly have an impact and a positive impact as far as the athletics side of it,’’ Whittingham said at his weekly press conference Monday. “In the past you’re juggling on when to send these athletes out that you’ve signed. Depending on when they turn 19 will determine are you going to play them for the season or the whole year or send them out right away.’’
Whittingham says the change will “standardize” things in the long run when it comes to missionaries.
“I think this is going to lay some common ground,’’ he said. “If we’re able to get these guys out uniformly in June or July, they’ll miss two seasons. We’ll be able to get them back in time (for fall camp), but obviously some will have to utilize a redshirt year to get in shape.’’
As for players who have already signed and might have plans for missions, Whittingham said, “It shouldn’t be a major impact.’’
MILES AHEAD: The offensive line has been Whittingham’s biggest concern all season, but he was pleased with how the line played against USC. Senior Miles Mason took over at right guard and joined left tackle Sam Brenner, left guard Jeremiah Tofaeono, center Tevita Stevens and right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi in the starting lineup.
“It was certainly much-improved and is getting the cohesiveness and continuity we need,” Whittingham said.
The Utes had announced that freshman Siaosi Aiono was going to start at right guard, but Mason, who started all but one game last year, mostly at right guard, got the starting nod and played the whole game.
Whittingham said Mason wasn’t very productive in fall camp and during the first month of the season, but played much better against USC.
“Miles really stepped up,’’ he said. “The light switch went off with Miles last week and he really played well.’’
MORE TIME FOR WILSON: Whittingham isn’t changing quarterbacks and still has positive things to say about senior Jon Hays, but he said freshman Travis Wilson’s role “is going to continue to escalate’’ the rest of the year.
“He’s going to have a much bigger role as the season progresses, that’s our intention,’’ Whittingham said. “I thought he did a nice job of moving the team on that last drive (against USC). In hindsight, we probably should have put him in sooner. We think he’s on track to be a very good quarterback.’’
UTE NOTES: Saturday’s game at UCLA begins at 1 p.m. MDT and will be televised on Fox. The Utes have fallen to No. 114 in the country in total offense (out of 120 teams) with 299.4 yards per game. The Utes’ top national ranking is in rushing defense, where they rank No. 26 with 114.8 yards allowed per game. UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin ranks seventh in the nation in rushing with 133.3 yards per game. Utah punter Sean Sellwood ranks No. 2 in the country in punting average at 47.59 yards per game. Utah has 37 Californians on its roster, and 27 are expected to be on the travel squad for this week’s game to Southern California.