We’ve got to get better. Keeton made plays all night and found ways to extend plays as well. He is a Heisman-type player. —Kyle Whittingham, Utah head football coach
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows all about the old adage that football teams make the most improvement between the first and second games of the season.
“We hope that applies to us,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of areas to address and things to work on. So it’ll keep us busy.”
Despite opening the season with a 30-26 win over Utah State last Thursday, Whittingham and the Utes are far from satisfied as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Weber State (noon, Pac-12 Networks) at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“We’ve got to get better,” said Whittingham, who called his squad “an average team” after the victory over USU.
Whittingham was especially displeased with the Utes’ pass defense. Utah allowed Aggies star Chuckie Keeton to complete 31 of 40 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns. Keeton was sacked just twice.
“Keeton made plays all night and found ways to extend plays as well,” Whittingham said. “He is a Heisman-type player.”
Utah’s overall defense did improve, however, as the season opener progressed. USU converted on 8 of 11 third-down situations in the first half but just 2 of 6 over the decisive third and fourth quarters. The Aggies had 301 yards of total offense before the break and 186 after it.
It was part of an overall team effort that Whittingham praised for being resilient. He credited his squad for not folding and for continuing to fight throughout the season opener.
“In the end it was just enough to get the win,” Whittingham said.
Utah’s pass efficiency and success kicking the ball were among the positives he noted.
Whittingham praised quarterback Travis Wilson for making very good decisions. The sophomore completed 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He was extremely efficient in the throw game,” Whittingham said.
Despite losing wide receiver Kenneth Scott to a season-ending lower leg injury early in the game, others picked up the slack in his absence. Seniors Anthony Denham and Sean Fitzgerald finished with six and five receptions, respectively. Wide receiver Dres Anderson and tight end Jake Murphy had touchdown catches.
“We never doubted ourselves and kept our confidence up,” Wilson said. “We were able to make some big plays downfield that set us up well for our touchdowns.”
Kicker Andy Phillips earned “player of the game” accolades from Whittingham. The 24-year-old redshirt freshman made three field goals, three PATs and successfully executed a pivotal onside kick in his first football game.
“He could not have performed better,” Whittingham said of the former U.S. ski team alpine racer.
WILDCATS ROAR: Weber State comes to town on the heels of an impressive 50-40 season-opening victory over Stephen F. Austin last Saturday in Ogden. Bo Bolen had a 100-yard kickoff return as the Wildcats racked up their highest point total in regulation since 2008.
WAIT AND SEE: Whittingham said that linebacker Brian Blechen’s status may not be known for several weeks. The senior, who did not play in Utah’s season-opening win over Utah State, is battling tendinitis.
“We’re just going to take it week by week, I guess you could say,” Whittingham said, “because it’s a situation where he’s not ready right now.”
Although Blechen does have a redshirt year available, Whittingham noted that nothing’s been decided.
“We haven’t even thought about that seriously yet, because it’s still so early,” he said. “That would not be until we start to approach midseason.”
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