Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media yesterday for his weekly press conference. He covered the win over the Huskies and the upcoming matchup against Arizona among other topics.
"It was a good road win up in Seattle against the Huskies, a good football team. It really was a defensive battle on both sides. Both sides did some good things. The real key to the game was our defense's ability to take the ball away. We had four takeaways and one was a direct score on the fumble recovery and return and then we set up two short-field situations with a couple of the other takeaways. That was really the biggest key in the game. Defensively, we played the run well. We gave up about 100 yards in the game, which is about our M.O. for this season. Special teams were solid. The offense did some good things, but had three turnovers though so that is something we have to get remedied. You're not going to win a whole lot of games turning the ball over three times unless you generate a bunch of takeaways with your defense, which we were able to do. That counteracted the turnovers offensively. Overall, it was a good victory. Our guys showed a lot of toughness and resiliency just like last week. It was a close game. In the fourth quarter, we finally pulled away. It was a competitive game and our guys hung in there and found another way to win. That's been a recurring theme this year. Every week they find a different way to win so it was good to see."
Chase Hansen was unfortunately lost for the season on the last play of the Washington game, but he will be a starter next year according to Whittingham, what position that will be at has not yet been determined.
"Chase is out for the season. It's a lower leg injury and it's a shame. He played lights out in this game. He was really just phenomenal with his play. It's a setback for us, but it's the next man up. Tevin [Carter], who was taking some reps at linebacker last week as well, will move back to safety full time. He and Jason Thompson will need to step up and pick the slack there.
"[Chase] is going to be on the field for us somewhere next year, whether it's quarterback, or safety or whatever. He's going to be a starter. We just have to determine in the offseason what we're going to focus on with him."
Whittingham would like more production in the passing game on offense, roughly 225 yards per game.
"As far as balance [on offense], I think we were pretty balanced in this game. We need to be more productive throwing the football. I still think that 225 yards is about our number. When we get to that offensively, we're much better. We're not so one dimensional. We were about 75 yards shy of that this week. We're looking for balance. We weren't as efficient throwing the ball this week either. We were down around 50 percent in completions, which is not good enough. Again, [Washington] is probably the best defense we've faced this year, either them or USC's. It was some tough sledding there for a while."
Utah next faces an Arizona running attack that has dominated Utah. Since head coach Rich Rodriguez arrived at UA in 2012, Arizona has had a running back top 200 yards in three straight years against the Utah defense.
"First of all, the offensive line play is exceptional. They're very well coached on the offensive line. Rich Rodriguez has a great grasp of the spread run game. They're second in the league right now in rushing at just over 200 yards a game. They're second in the league in total offense, over 500 yards a game. They do a great job offensively. Really, the zone read is what has hurt us the last several years. The way their offensive line blocks it, they do a great job. The quarterback reads it exceptionally well and they have running backs who are very good in that style of offense.
"Overall, generally speaking, they are a run-first team. That's what they want to do. They want to put a bunch of rushing yardage on you and then mix in the action pass and some drop back. We focus on what we have to do schematically. Sure it matters which guys are playing and which ones aren't playing, but we have not done a good job, no matter what the circumstances are, in the last three years against those guys. We have to focus on us and make sure we're gap sound and make sure we're doing the things we need to do to play good defense."
Utah is traveling to Tucson, a place they have not won since 2011, beating previous Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. The last three years, Utah has been beaten by Arizona.
"They've had our number the last three years. There's no chance of us overlooking these guys. We have to be at our best. They've beaten us three years in a row and they're a team that's very dangerous. When they played USC, they were leading in the fourth quarter last week. USC ended up pulling away with it, but we're going to have to play our best football, just like every week."
The Utah rush defense leads the Pac-12 in rushing defense but faces the No. 2 rushing offense in Arizona this week.
"We have excellent defensive line play. We know we're strong up front. We also have excellent linebacker play. You combine those and that's a pretty good starting point to be good against the run. Then it is our schemes. [Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Line] Coach [John] Pease and our staff have done a good job of making sure that we're schematically sound every week and that we have enough bodies in the box to defend what we have to in the run game."
Linebacker Gionni Paul won Pac-12 and Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after an excellent game at Washington.
"Gionni is great. He's a heck of a player. He's a big-play guy. He not only was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, but the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, which is a great honor. As I've said before, he's instinctive. He's tough. He has great quickness and anticipation. Gionni possesses all of the things that you look for in a linebacker. Plus he has a passion for the game. His passion and enthusiasm is infectious among the rest of the team, which is great. He's a great leader for us."
Despite all of the success this season, Utah still takes each game one at a time.
"We still stick to a game-by-game approach, but we see the big picture. We understand what we want to accomplish and that's to try to get to the Pac-12 championship game, which requires winning the south [division]. That's not something that we ignore, but our focus on a week-to-week basis is completely on the next opponent. We're certainly aware of where we are in the standings and what needs to happen.
"The stakes get higher every week. I tell our team that all of the time. The deeper we get into this, the bigger the situation. That's why you play the game, to be in situations like this. You want to be in these situations. The best thing right now is that we control our own destiny. That is the most important factor in the whole thing. Going into week 10, we control our own destiny. You couldn't ask for anything more than that at this point in the season."
Hiva Lutui has been great for the Utah offensive line, stepping up and filling in well at center for injured starter Siaosi Aiono. He has also played guard as well.
"Hiva has stepped in [to the starting center role] and played very well. He has held down the fort. In fact, he played much better this week than he did last week. He is very dependable. He can play any of those three inside spots. He has really stepped up for us and has done a nice job."
Tevin Carter is a tough, physical player and is great in run defense. He just needs some work in pass coverage.
"He's a physical player. He's more a box safety, almost a linebacker. He's kind of a ‘tweener,' half linebacker and half safety. It's really the coverage aspect that he needs to continue to work on. He has the run defense down. He's a very physical player in the box. He's not bad in coverage, but that's something he needs to continue to work on."
Running back Devontae Booker reached 1,000 yards for the second-straight season.
"It's great. He's been a work horse for us going on two years now. We fully anticipated that he was going to get a bunch of yards for us this year and he's responded. Every single week, he's been the same consistent guy for us. He's the focal point of the offense. We rely on him heavily."