SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been said, by many college football coaches over many years, that a team makes its greatest improvement of the season from game one to game two.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham pretty much buys into the adage. “Well, usually, I think that is the case. You’re talking about the whole season,” he said. “I think there’s the most progress that happens during that period of time.”
So, after the opening the season with a 41-10 win over Weber State, what’s next for the Utes as they prepare for Saturday’s game at Northern Illinois? They posted some impressive numbers against the Wildcats — the offense racked up 587 yards and the defense allowed just 59.
“What we need to do is we need to start better. That’s for certain. That’s something that was obvious on Thursday night, is we didn’t start very well on offense,” Whittingham said. “Defensively, just find a way to — we’ve talked about before — find a way to get a takeaway. We didn’t get a takeaway in the game.”
Whittingham added that there were plenty of things on special teams to work on. He noted that the Utes had a field goal attempt blocked for the first time in several years and turned the ball over on a punt return.
Northern Illinois, he continued, did a nice job of blocking a punt in last Saturday’s 33-7 loss at Iowa. The Huskies blocked six (returning two for touchdowns in a victory over Ball State) last season.
“They’re a team that knows how to block punts,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of that.”
Utah players have also taken note of things to work on in the team’s bid for marked improvement between the opener and second game of the season.
Like Whittingham, quarterback Tyler Huntley noted the need for the offense to get off to a better start. Weber State cashed in on a couple of miscues — an interception and a muffed punt — to take an early 10-0 lead on the Utes.
“We’ve just got to be more consistent,” said Huntley, who emphasized the importance of executing.
On the positive side, Huntley was pleased that the offense made a lot of big plays.
“That determines a game, too, besides turnovers and I think we did a good job,” he said.
Zack Moss had an 86-yard touchdown run and caught one of Huntley’s four scoring strikes. Britain Covey led the receiving corps with seven receptions. Wide receiver Siaosi Mariner had six catches and joined tight ends Brant Kuithe and Cole Fotheringham with TD receptions. The Utes racked up 25 first downs.
“We know what we’re capable of. We know what we can do,” Mariner said. “It’s a matter of just doing it faster. I feel like we showed it the third quarter — what we can do — but we’ve got to start that from the first time we touch the field.”
Defensive tackle John Penisini, who led the Utes with six tackles (including three behind the line of scrimmage), explained what the defense could do better in the second week of the season.
“Still little things to fix,” he said. “But I think we’re going to get better over time.”
Specifically, Penisini explained that the Utes have just got to keep working hard in order to improve, such as the pass rush.
“There’s really more room for improvement,” he said. “I think just like more game planning for this next opponent, to see what they like to do.”
Utah (1-0) at Northern Illinois (0-1)
- Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, Illinois
- Saturday, 5:30 p.m. (MT)
- TV: ESPNews
- Radio: ESPN 700AM