Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media after No. 4 Utah (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) defeated No. 23 California (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) 30-24 on Saturday. The Utes will face Arizona State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 8 p.m. MT on Saturday Oct. 17.
"First off, putting the Cal game to bed, I'm proud of our guys. It was a hard fought game. It required the full 60 minutes, every bit of the full 60 minutes. The real key of the game was our ability to take the football away. We generated six takeaways. You're not going to lose many football games when you give the ball back to your offense six times. On the negative side, we did have three turnovers of our own so it was a plus-three on the ration, which is still very good and give us a good chance to win the game. Devontae [Booker] was obviously huge in the game with over 200 yards rushing and another 40 or 50 in receptions. He was a big part of the reason why were able to come out on top. Of course the offensive line played a big part in that as well. Those yards are not going to come in that fashion without good offensive line play. There were a lot of good things and some things to work on coming out of game. Obviously, the throw game was nowhere near what it needs to be. We understand that. It was very good in the game before, but took a little bit of a back step last week. We have to get that back on track. Overall, we're sitting right where we want to be heading into the Arizona State game, which will be game six and obviously the midpoint of the season. Arizona State seems to be hitting its stride. They're coming off of a couple nice wins and they're playing well right now. It should be a great ballgame."
Utah is up to seven players who have received Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. This week it was running back Devontae Booker and punter Tom Hackett (this is his second win).
"It's a great honor. When you're playing well and winning, those things seem to happen. It's great for Devontae [Booker] and great for Tom [Hackett]. I'm very proud of those guys."
Whittingham was asked about his thoughts on Arizona State, Utah's next opponent.
"First of all, they're well-coached. They're a good team. They have good athletes. We played them down to the wire last year and the year before, but came up short. There are two teams that we haven't been able to beat since we joined the conference and Arizona State is one of them. We have them at our place, which is a plus. By the way, that environment on Saturday night was great. The fans and atmosphere was as good as there is. We're hoping for a repeat of that this week to give us another home field advantage."
After putting up five passing touchdowns on Oregon, the Utah passing game struggled a bit against California. They face an Arizona State team that has shut down their passing attack the last few meetings.
"It was a little of both [Cal playing good defense and things Utah needs to adjust]. We needed to take more deep shots. We connected on one to Cory Butler-Byrd, but we have to be able to stretch the defense a little more often than we did on Saturday night. The DBs from Cal did a nice job of getting their hands on our receivers and redirecting routes to take away the timing of some of the route structure. It's a combination of things, but I know that we're at our best offensively when we're balanced and we weren't very balanced on Saturday night.
"[This week in practice, we're going to work on] everything in general. We're obviously not going to tip our hand and tell you exactly what we're going to do, but we have to be better. Our guys will work hard in practice and there's no doubt in my mind that our players are going to be committed to getting the passing game back on track again. There are a lot of moving parts in the passing game. It's not just the quarterback. There's the protection and the routes. There are a lot of things going on in the throwing game that have to be in sync. We will work hard this week on getting everything back in sync.
"We are not really potent on offense unless we're throwing the ball well. It's all great to have a tailback like Devontae [Booker] and be able to run the rock like we have, but you have to be able to throw to be a complete offense. Looking back at last year's game [at Arizona State], I still feel the same way. We should have thrown the football more in that game. We'll have to see how this game unfolds and what kind of game plan [Arizona State] has, although it shouldn't deviate much from what they've shown so far. We're at our best when we're throwing a high percentage of completions and getting the wide receivers involved in what we're doing."
With all of the man coverage Utah runs, Cal was able to exploit it a bit with rub routes.
"It's a great scheme by them. With as much man coverage as we play, we see [picks and rubs] quite often. Sometimes they get called and sometimes they don't. It's good schematics by them and we have to do a good job to be able to handle it because we know we're going to see [picks and rubs] all year long. It's tough [to defend] and that's why they do it. It's hard to defend, particularly when you're playing man [coverage]."
Utah forced five interceptions against Cal's Jared Goff. Part of that was due to disguising their coverages well.
"Disguising is a big part of playing good defense. You have to be able to do a good job of not giving the quarterback a pre-snap look where he knows what's coming. We stress that in our schemes on defense to give certain looks initially and then roll into a different coverage than what you presented at the outset. That played a big part in coming away with some of the interceptions on Saturday night. It was not only coverage, but pressure with getting in and out of pressures to disguise when you're coming [blitzing the quarterback] and also appearing to pressure and then backing out. That's nothing that other teams in the country don't do as well, but we have to continue to do that. When you play a quarterback like [California's Jared] Goff, you have to do that or he's just going to shred you."
Utah linebacker Gionni Paul has great instincts and is always around the football.
"It's probably his strong suit, his ability to first of all make plays and his instincts. He has great instincts for a linebacker. He's always around the ball. He just has a knack. He's the one who caused the fumble, too. He put his face right on the ball in Cal's territory and we were able to recover around the 18 yard line. [Paul] is a guy who is a playmaker. His instincts are as good as I've ever seen in any linebacker I've ever had here. It's really his strength."
Utah's philosophy is "All in or in the way." Whittingham was asked how the team is doing with the philosophy so far this season.
"[The level of commitment on this team] is very good. We have everyone on board. We don't see anyone on the fringe. We're all pulling in the same direction. That's the key. It comes with the `all in' philosophy, which is what that's really saying. Everyone has to pull in the same direction. We feel like we're doing that."
Utah is seeing more attention this year than any previous year in the Pac-12.
"They're very equipped to handle [the increased media attention]. They proved a lot of that last week. There was a lot of attention on that game with ESPN College GameDay right on campus. We just have to continue to have the same mentality and block out the external noise and stay focused. We can't get ahead of ourselves. The key is to take it one game at a time. I know that's the oldest analogy and adage in football, the one game at a time mentality, but it's absolutely applicable to us right now."
The second largest crowd in stadium history was on hand to watch Utah defeat Cal on Saturday. The atmosphere of the stadium was as good as it has been.
"It was a great environment, one of the best. It was the second-biggest crowd in stadium history. It was phenomenal. Everyone stayed from start to finish. Obviously, no one left. Every seat was taken for the entire 60 minutes of the game. I've said it before, but the boost and energy that those fans give our team is big. It's a big factor for us."
Utah has been rotating Sam Tevi and Jackson Barton at left tackle and Salesi "Leka" Uhatafe and Hiva Lutui at right guard.
"[Playing time is] two-thirds Sam [Tevi] and one-third Jackson [Barton] at left tackle. That's how the reps are split up. The reason [Barton] is getting reps is because he has been playing well, not only in practice, but in the games with the reps he has been getting. He's very deserving of getting the opportunity to play so that will continue. You also see that with Hiva [Lutui] and Leka [Salesi Uhatafe] at right guard, where it's more of a 50-50 split."
Utah's dominant front seven has been another key for Utah to generate interceptions this season.
"They've played a big part. The defensive line did a really good job of keeping [Cal quarterback] Jared Goff out of his rhythm. He was under duress on a lot of his throws. Even though we only sacked him three times, we knocked some balls down, made him move around in the pocket and made him throw a lot sooner than he wanted to at times. Just like the passing game on offense, pass coverage on defense works hand in hand. The pass rush helps out the coverage and the coverage helps out the pass rush. We're doing a pretty good job right now as a unit defending the pass."
Whittingham was asked about the role of defensive end Kylie Fitts moving forward after his strong play in Hunter Dimick's absence. Dimick returned to action against Cal after missing two games.
"He is getting a lot more playing time. He started for us last week [against Cal]. It's all about production and he's been giving us great production and he'll continue to get a majority of the reps. We feel like we have three really good every-down players [at defensive end] between him, Hunter [Dimick] and Jason Fanaika. Pita [Taumoepenu] is more of a pass rushing specialist. We feel like we have four guys who are really contributing there. [Filipo] Mokofisi at times, depending on circumstances, can play outside as well."
Also, check out our interview with right tackle J.J. Dielman