We’ve just got to put it together. It’s been a struggle but we’ll figure it out. —Utah safety Chase Hansen
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s all about the run.
That, in a nutshell, is what’s troubling the reeling Utah Utes these days. Mired in a four-game losing streak, they’ve had troubling running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said both things “need to come to the party.” He also noted the need for both “to gain ground and become much better.”
The next chance to do so is promising, quite promising. UCLA comes to town for Friday’s game at Rice-Eccles Stadium with the Pac-12’s worst rushing defense (307.1 ypg). The Bruins are 10th in rushing offense (121.1 ypg). They rank among the nation’s worst in both categories.
In last week’s 41-20 loss at Oregon, Utah gave up 347 yards rushing. The Utes wound up with 91 after netting just three in the first half.
"Another tough loss, another disappointing loss,” Whittingham said. “The short version would be that we didn't run the ball well enough, and we didn't defend the run well enough. That is the big overriding factor in the game and the outcome of the game.”
Whittingham added that the Ducks ran the ball at will out on the perimeter. The Utes also had trouble out on the perimeter a week earlier in a 30-10 loss to Arizona State. They were outgained 205-110 on the ground.
“But this was a different kind of struggle. This was more of a speed issue,” Whittingham said about the Oregon game. “We didn't adjust well, and we didn't make in-game changes and adjustments that we should have done. So we, as coaches, have to do better.”
Defensive end Kylie Fitts and safety Chase Hansen are confident that the Utes can get back to stopping the run with regularity.
“I think a lot of it has just been missed assignments and adjustments to scheme. We weren’t expecting the edge, perimeter runs watching film and stuff,” Fitts said. “When that happened in the game we didn’t really adjust well to it. So I think wen’ve just got to adjust to it and be more assignment-sound.”
Fitts added that the Utes have proven they can do it.
“We did it all of last year. We did it the first four games,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t go back to that, that same defense.”
The defense, he continued, will just go out to practice and get better on it.
Hansen, who led Utah with 11 tackles last week, agrees.
“We can stop the run. We just end up in a game where someone’s confused or we made too many mistakes and all of a sudden we are getting gashed,” he explained. “So I think we’re more than capable of doing it. I don’t know. We’ve just got to put it together. It’s been a struggle but we’ll figure it out.”
Quarterback Tyler Huntley has similar thoughts about the offense. The Utes are eighth in the Pac-12 with 146.8 yards rushing per game.
“We can run the ball, definitely. We’ve got Zack Moss. We’ve got Devonta’e Henry-Cole. We’ve got Troy McCormick. We’ve got backs.” Huntley said. “We’re just not clicking yet. But we’re going to get it rolling.”
Pinpointing the problem in recent weeks, however, isn’t easy.
“It’s just different things that keep us back from succeeding right now,” he said.
UCLA (4-4, 2-3) at UTAH (4-4, 1-4)
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM