Head coach Kyle Whittingham opened his weekly press conference addressing the disappointing loss to the Washington State Cougars on Saturday. He also touched on the next opponent, UCLA.
"Big disappointment in our game on Saturday. A game that we had complete control of and let it get away from us. You can't do that. Once you get control of the football game you have to maintain it, and we weren't able to do it. If we just found a way to make one more play in the fourth quarter, one stop - a lot of opportunities. We got out to that 21-0 lead, and I don't believe our guys stopped playing hard, we just quit making plays. We didn't make the plays throughout the rest of the game that we were making early. I think our defense wore down a little bit. The first half the defense played exceptionally well. They threw seven or eight receivers at us the entire game, and we played with four corners. That's really our depth at corner- we have four guys who are ready to play, and I think they wore out a little bit. But that's behind us now. We have to move forward, and it's on to UCLA. A top-10 team, big challenge on the road in the Rose Bowl. They are a team that is loaded top to bottom. Virtually every position has exceptional players. Their quarterback is exceptional, just like every other quarterback it seems like in this conference. There is no weakness on their football team. That's why they are a top-10 team. It will be a big challenge for us, so we move on and we move forward," said Whittingham.
Utah senior wide receiver Dres Anderson failed to make a catch for the first time the game at Oregon State on Oct. 20th, 2012, when he was a sophomore.
"Dres [Anderson] was open a few times. One time the ball was right on the money and he couldn't come up with the catch. It was late in the game, and that obviously would have been huge for us. He was open a couple of other times we missed him, so he was targeted, he just didn't come away with a catch. He's one of our biggest weapons, if not our biggest weapon on offense. That hurt us, not having him more productive. We just seemed out of sync in the throwing game all night long. The run game was pretty good. [Devontae] Booker had a big night and did some good things there, but in this league you have to be able to throw the ball consistently week in and week out, and we didn't do that Saturday night," said Whttingham.
It was not just Anderson, the team in general needs to be better throwing the football to be successful, according to Whittingham.
"We have to be more productive throwing the football," said Whittingham. "The protection wasn't bad. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. For whatever reason, we weren't in sync and wasn't executing in that phase of the game. I said last week that I thought that Washington State's defense was underrated and under the radar, and they stepped up and did some good things."
Some of that production falls on the shoulders of quarterback Travis Wilson. The coaching staff will explore how to get more effective play from behind center if Wilson has another off game. Despite Wilson's struggles to run the read option (an area of his game he appeared to improve in practice and through the first two games), the team continued to run it. Maybe switching to Kendal Thompson could have made those plays more effective. Given the fact that there are currently six eligible quarterbacks on the roster, it makes sense to experiment a bit with the position potentially since each quarterback brings some unique skills.
"We're taking a look at all possibilities. Kendal [Thompson], in hindsight, probably should have gotten a couple of series in the game Saturday. But we're looking for any and every answer we can come up with offensively. The first two games we played very well offensively. We realize the degree of difficulty increased. We had chances to make plays Saturday night, three or four times, to connect deep, and just weren't able to do it.
Travis [Wilson] has done a great job protecting the football and taking care of it. That's one of the reasons that we are 3-1, and we should be 4-0, because of the lack up turnovers. We only turned it over once against Washington State, and we were able to generate three takeaways. That's one of the few times I can remember that we won the turnover margin by +2 or more and lost the football game, so that was an anomaly. It shouldn't have happened, but it did," said Whittingham.
Very deservingly, running back Devontae Booker is now the sole starter at running back. Bubba Poole brings some skills to the table (blocking and moves in the open field), but I believe Booker is the better back. I think having a primary back is better than a rotation since it allows a back to get hot and improve as the game goes on, as former Ute running back John White IV often would do. I do think some two back sets could utilize Booker and Poole effectively though.
"Devontae Booker is our guy, and Bubba Poole is the backup, after what's gone down the first four games. It's become apparent that Devontae is the most productive, and he will be the starter, and Bubba will be No. 2," said Whittingham.
The Utes do not have time to wallow in the heartbreaking loss to WSU since they have to prepare for a top 10 team this week in the UCLA Bruins. Hopefully, coaches and players rebound quickly and prepare effectively for the trip to the Rose Bowl.
"UCLA gets our attention. Like I mentioned earlier, they are a top-10 football team and there is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. There is nothing to do but move forward. You can't press rewind. There is no rewind button in life. You have to forget about it, but you have to learn from it. You have to learn from your mistakes and understand that, but you can't sit there and sulk and dwell on it. We have to move forward, and we will. We came in early today and watched the film with the players, and picking up this afternoon will be all about UCLA moving forward.
Everyone is disappointed and frustrated, as you'd expect. If you have a team that loses, and it doesn't bother them, you've got an issue. As soon as we get them back this afternoon, we've got to put it behind us and move forward. That's the nature of the business. You can't dwell on a loss for days and days. You can't play backwards, you have to play forward, as Jerry Sloan would say, and that's what we plan on doing. I think our guys are resilient, both the players and the coaching staff, and that's what we have to be in this case," said Whittingham.
UCLA is led by Heisman candidate quarterback Brett Hundley. While Hundley did struggle last season against Utah, he did score a touchdown passing, running, and receiving. He seems even better this year, so slowing him down will be key to a Utah victory.
As a freshman it was painfully obvious that he had a ton of talent, but he has really honed and fine-tuned his game, and he is absolutely a complete quarterback in every sense of the word," said Whittingham. "Runs the ball effectively, throws the ball effectively, makes great decision, great leader, you can just tell that he is in charge of that football team. I've seen a lot of growth on film with him over the last couple of years."
Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham press conference 9/29/14 (via KSL Sports)