The Utah Utes head into a bye week, adding preparation time for a trip to The Big House to play the Michigan Wolverines. The Utes are coming off a 59-27 win over Fresno State that looked easier than fans may have expected from a team that suffered back-to-back 5-7 seasons. In his weekly press conference today, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham had many different topics to discuss.
Utah starting quarterback Travis Wilson's efficiency and lack of turnovers has been key to the two wins. Wilson currently ranks second in the nation and leads the Pac-12 in pass efficiency with a 213.9 rating. The 6-foot-7 junior has thrown 24 completions on 38 passes (63%) for 446 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Wilson's five touchdown passes ties him for second in school history in that category, even though he did it in slightly more than half the game.
Wilson has thrown for 3,584 yards in his career. He needs 292 to pass Mark Stevens (1983-84) for 12th all time. His 29 touchdown passes ties him with Randy Gomez (1977-78) for ninth place on the Utah list and just two more to pass Utah color announcer Frank Dolce (1991-92) for eighth.
"[Wilson] has had two good outings, very efficient with the ball," said Whittingham.
Whittingham also stressed the importance of converting third downs on offense and is happy with the team so far.
Both center Hiva Lutui and guard Nick Nowakowski graded well filling in for starting center Siaosi Aiono and left guard Junior Salt in the second quarter.
The receiving corps did not have any drops against Fresno State. Returning starter Kenneth Scott, hauled in six catches for 77 yards against the Bulldogs, two of which went for touchdowns. It's appropriate that Scott identifies with The Batman, as Utah's receiving corps is looking like a dynamic duo, with Dres Anderson grabbing three catches for 84 yards and two scores. (Anderson needs just 83 more yards to become the fifth Utes receiver to reach 2,000 yards for a career.)
Against Fresno State, Scott demonstrated what everyone assumed he'd bring to the Utes when healthy, a pass snaring machine who gets tough yards after the catch. He also stretches the field opposite Dres Anderson, which allows the speedy no. 6 to work in single coverage. On the season, Scott leads the Utes in receptions (10), and touchdowns (3), while also ranking second on the team in receiving yards (134).
"Probably [Scott's] best game as a Ute," said Whittingham.
Whittingham was happy with the defense against the run and forcing five straight three-and-outs to start the Fresno State game. But, as with any new season, even a blowout win can demonstrate areas that can use improvement.
"There are some details that need to be cleaned up," said Whittingham.
The head coach was not happy across the board with the play of the second team defense, due to both poor play and penalties. He cited good play by safeties Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter. The secondary overall graded well, despite a few big completions.
Sophomore cornerback Dominique Hatfield has played well on the defensive side of the ball. Domo has recorded four tackles and two pass breakups in Utah's first two contests.
"He is a guy we believe can be an exceptional corner," said Whittingham.
Forcing takeaways has been emphasized in practice everyday because it will be necessary come Pac-12 play, according to Whittingham. So far, Utah has recorded just one turnover on the season.
Whittingham said defensive end Nate Orchard provides the best pressure off the edge, and the group as a whole has done a nice job of getting pressure on the quarterback, just like last season. Orchard will be moved between defensive end and linebacker (filling the Trevor Reilly role) to take advantage of teams scheming to try to stop his pass rushing ability, for example dropping him into coverage if extra blockers are brought over to stop him. Doing this will help free up other pass rushers. Utah fans can also expect to see new blitz packages every week.
All America candidate Tom Hackett was named player of the game against Fresno State according to Whittingham. Hackett was also the Ray Guy Player of the Week. Whittingham said that both kicker (and fellow All America candidate) Andy Phillips and Hackett "are weapons."
Whittingham stressed that personnel match ups will be key in the game planning, as well as Michigan's schemes on offense and defense. Despite the bad loss to Notre Dame, Whittingham is very impressed by Michigan's personnel. The scheme is more important than the outcome of a play for the coaching staff to prepare for a team, so the loss to Notre Dame doesn't change how the staff will prepare for Michigan.
"Last week wasn't typical Michigan football," said Whittingham.
A lot of people are wondering when Gionni Paul will make his Utah debut. The former Miami Hurricanes linebacker has been out nursing a foot injury, by Whittingham isn't tipping his hand with two weeks to go before the Michigan game.
"I think we are on the verge of getting him back, but we don't know," Utah's head coach said.
That sounds like a definite maybe, right? His only other comment on injuries was that there were a few players that got a little banged up, but he did not specify who.
Utah faces Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 1:30 MT on ABC regional or ESPN 2. According to Utah's ticket office, of the 2,500 ticket allotment for the Michigan game, 400 remain available for purchase (at $80 per).