Kyle Whittingham addressed the media today in his weekly press conference and talked about the loss to Oregon and the preparations for Stanford. Utah dropped the heartbreaker on Saturday 27-51 in a game that got away from the Utes in the fourth quarter.
"I'm proud of the way the guys played," Whittingham said. "You can't turn the ball over four times and beat a team the caliber of Oregon. Late in the game, we let the score get away from us. The passing game was much improved."
"What we did in this game helped us. We had over 400 yards of total offense. We opened some things up with the two back stuff. That was one of those things we thought would help us. We'll do whatever we think is best schematically, but we need to get Bubba Poole more involved, Westlee Tonga more involved."
Utes running back Devontae Booker rushed for 65 yards against the Ducks, giving him 1,088 for the season and putting him into the elite single season 1,000-yard rushing club. With three games and a bowl game ahead, Booker can seriously challenge John White IV's single season rushing record of 1,519 yards.
"That's been a huge part of our success, a huge reason we've won six ballgames," Whittingham said of Booker breaking the 1,000 yard barrier. "We've had good play up front, with the offensive line. I think he's one of the best backs in the conference."
The Utes head coach then turned to Booker and added, "Don't get a big head, Devontae."
Whittingham, as expected, was very complimentary about Oregon's Heisman Trophy front runner, quarterback Marcus Mariota, who went 17-of-29 passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns. "Super" Mariota also rushed 18 times for 152 yards and another score.
"I hope it's the last time we see him," Whittingham joked. "I think he has a very, very bright future at the next level. I hope he wins the Heisman. I really do."
One of the widely publicized aspects of Saturday's game was Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay's goal-line "fumble" of an apparent 78-yard touchdown pass. According to Whittingham, the issue has been addressed but the blame resides with the coaches.
"He made a mistake," Whittingham said. "I put it on us as coaches. We've gotta do a better job of instilling [proper behavior and technique] on our players. He's a playmaker for us. He did a lot of good things for us Saturday night. We need to move on, and, hopefully, that never shows up again."
When a reporter noted it wasn't the first time Utah has had a close call, dropping the ball before crossing the goal line, Whittingham responded, "We didn't address it well enough."
Whittingham said the team has to move on from the emotional loss against Oregon and get ready for their next challenge, which is Saturday against Stanford in Palo Alto. Utah's staff has already begun preparations for the Cardinal, but they'll have to do it without starting wide receiver Tim Patrick, quarterback Kendal Thompson, and safety Tevin Carter. Patrick and Thompson were lost for the season due to injuries sustained in the Oregon game, Patrick to a lower leg injury and Thompson to a knee injury. Carter has been battling what Whttingham described as a "hip flexor/abdominal region injury" and what others are calling a groin injury for most of the season. Utah will apply for a medical hardship and hope to get the talented defensive back on the field for the 2015 campaign.
"Tevin Carter will be a redshirt, so he will not be able to play," Whittingham said. "Hopefully, we'll get a medical hardship for him."
The may be some good news on the injury front, however, as injured linebacker Jason Whittingham may be able to return to the field for this season.
"We're still holding out hope," Whittingham, Jason's uncle, said. "We're hoping that if everything goes well, he'll be able to start practicing this week. We may have him for the last two ballgames."
But with the loss of starters Patrick and Dres Anderson in the wide receiver corps, Utah needs Kenneth Scott to really step up this week. It was revealed today that Scott has been banged up for much of the season.
"Scotty has been slowed by some things injury-wise," Whittingham said. "He's just doing the best he can. We have to get Kaelin more involved, Westlee Tonga also needs to be more involved in what we're doing."
After Utah ambushed Stanford last season, beating the then No. 5-ranked Cardinal in Rice-Eccles Stadium 27-21, many have thought the team from Palo Alto had this game circled on their calendar for a while. Whittingham doesn't buy that argument.
"When you go through the Pac-12, you can't say we're waiting on this one or that one. It's every week. They'll be ready. I'll guarantee you that. They're well coached," Whittingham said.
One of the main priorities for the offensive coaching staff this week will be finding a new backup quarterback. The two who will get the reps for that number two slot will be Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. Cox has seen action in one game this season and thrown three passes, completing all three, for 17 yards. Manning hasn't stepped on the field in a live game yet this season.
"Cox is more like Kendal Thompson," Whittingham said. "He can run. Conner is more of a pocket passer, more like Jordan Wynn. That's gotta be something that's top priority during the week. Travis will, obviously, start."
The Utes know strolling into Palo Alto won't be a cake walk. Stanford has been very good at home in recent years, and they're one of the best defensive teams in the Pac-12.
"They're leading the league in about every defensive category," Whittingham said. "That's something they're doing exceptionally well. They're not as good offensively as they have been. [Wide receiver Ty] Montgomery is a dangerous kid, not only as a wide receiver but as a kick returner."
"[Montgomery] is 6-2, 220. He has great size. It's very similar to what Kaelin does for us. He took one back to the house on us last year. The object is to try to minimize his damage. He took two punts to the house already. We've got to try to slow him down. It's a lot like Mariota. You're never going to shut him down."
"Offensively, they're more of a down hill power run game. Less of the smash-mouth this year. They're throwing the ball more is the bottom line."
Coach Whittingham noted there are some similarities between Stanford and his Utes, mostly the physical nature of how both clubs play on either side of the line of scrimmage. But even while Stanford's defense is stout and physical and Utah has lost Thompson for the season, the Utes won't be protecting Wilson from contact. Whittingham said the Utes need to be able to call designed runs where appropriate.
"We've gotta do what we've gotta do to win," Whittingham said. "Travis is a pretty good runner, and we have to utilize that skill whenever it's appropriate. We had over 300 yards passing as a team. We need that to happen. That's why we were in the position we were in the fourth quarter Saturday night, because we were able to throw the ball downfield."
Utah's (6-3, 3-3) game with Stanford (5-4, 3-3) Saturday will be broadcast at 4 p.m. MT on the Pac-12 Networks.