Whittingham held his weekly press conference today. Not surprisingly, most of the focus was on Utah's loss to UCLA Saturday.
"It was a tough road trip to Pasadena, down in the Rose Bowl. We came away getting beat handily and didn't play well on either side of the ball. It wasn't our typical, what you expect from the Utah offense. Three turnovers, 15 first downs and 0-for-11 on third down is probably the most telling statistic of the afternoon. You can't win any football games with that type of conversion rate. Defensively, we weren't much better. We played 75 snaps on defense with zero takeaways and zero sacks. Those are what we term impact plays on defense and we didn't come away with any of those. Not typical defensive numbers either for the Utes."
Utah's offense surprised me more than their defense. Whittingham seems to be concerned about the offensive production, let's hope he takes Ludwig aside and talks to him about the play calling. Outside of the rather vanilla plays, Utah failed to run the ball, even with the success of Mike Liti early on in the game.
"Some bright spots. We did have a few things that were positive. Rush defense is number-one. We allowed 2.6 yards a carry, which is outstanding. We do that all year long and our rush defense is going to be one of the best, if not the best, in the conference. We didn't give up any sacks on offense. That was a positive. We had far too many sacks last year and we didn't give up any this week."
I agree here. If there were any positives, it was Utah's ability to stop UCLA's running game. The Utes d-line looked sharp in that aspect, however failed to pressure Olson at all during the game. I'm hoping that UCLA had a solid offensive line and this is why Utah couldn't bust through to pressure Olson. If this is not the case, Utah might get lit up by even mediocre quarterbacks.
"Overall, it was a disappointment. But it was UCLA on the road, that's a tough ballgame. There's nothing easy about that. They were 10-2 last year and they are an upper-echelon Pac-10 team. They've recruited well over the last few years. Coach (Karl) Dorrell has that thing going there. Time will tell, but we think they're going to be a very good football team this year."
I'm hoping UCLA is a good team and that's why Utah struggled in this game. If the Bruins revert back to a 6-6 season, I don't see how the Utes can finish with more than 6 wins, let alone compete for a conference championship.
"(Brian) Hernandez and (Steve) Tate, I would say are out. Hernandez has a thigh contusion that has developed some swelling. The swelling is coming down. But here it is Tuesday, I don't know if he'll be ready for Saturday. I don't know if I'd say doubtful. I'd say he's out until further notice. Tate is doubtful. He's a tough kid. He's markedly better today as opposed to Saturday, but he's got a ways to go. Odds are we'll be without both those guys and (tight end) Jason Voss for the second week in a row."
I'm hoping this is a fluke and Brian Hernandez has not been bit by the injury bug once again like he was last year. I think the loss of Tate won't really matter, since he looked rather mediocre against UCLA and made some inane plays during the game. Luckily the Utes aren't playing a D1-A team this week, so the loss of Voss and Hernandez shouldn't hurt too much.
"Tommy Grady is an excellent quarterback. We have no second-guessing on our part of what we did in the game Saturday. The plan going in was to get him in during the second quarter. Had I had a crystal ball and known he was going to throw a pick for a touchdown, we certainly wouldn't have put him in. But the plan was in place. He's one of the best backup quarterbacks in the country.
Putting in Grady at that time might not have been the smartest move, however not putting him in when Ratliff struggled later in the second half was a worse move, I think. Utah was down only 14 points heading into the fourth quarter and definitely not out of the game. However Ratliff buckled and could not convert on key third downs. This killed any chance of Utah rallying to a victory.
Whittingham then talked about Northern Arizona.
"How hard they play. They really play hard. On defense, they were running to the football. On offense, they spread you out. The quarterback is athletic and a tough guy. He took some shots in the ASU game and just kept getting up. He's a very competitive kid. They also have an outstanding receiver. Number three (Alex Watson) is an outstanding receiver. He caught 200-yards-plus worth of balls against ASU. We've got to make sure he's our focal point."
As I said in my NAU preview, NAU is capable of stunning the Utes, especially if their offensive production sucks like it did against UCLA. I expect a win, but after last week, nothing would surprise me. I just hope the coaches don't overlook NAU and that the players don't get too emotionally spent after the UCLA loss.