Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media for his weekly press conference. He had plenty to talk about with the shooting of Lo Falemaka and Marcel Brooks-Brown on Saturday night, the win over Utah State, and the game against Fresno State.
"First thing we'll cover is the unfortunate incident this past weekend concerning two of our guys. The bottom line is that we're very fortunate and blessed they're both okay. It could have been a lot worse. One has already been released from the hospital, Marcel Brooks-Brown, and Lo [Falemaka] should be released in a week or so. It was a bad deal, unfortunate. You hate to see it, but it happened and we have to move forward and we will.
"As far as the [Utah State] game, I thought we did some good things. We still have a lot to work on. We still have our share of deficiencies, but we're 2-0 right now, which is obviously our desired goal two weeks into the season. We just have to keep working. We have Fresno State coming up in our first road game of the year and the first road trip for a lot of our players. We have to be able to handle that right away. If we want to be a good football team, we have to be able to play well on the road."
Utah will take their first road trip of the season when they travel to play at Fresno State on Saturday. There are challenges for the first road game of the year.
"First of all, it's just the mechanics of being on the road and not at home. Obviously, it's a foreign stadium and a different hotel so the routine is going to be different. The key is that the players understand that we're on this trip for one reason, to try and win the football game. It's a business trip, it's not a sightseeing tour or anything like that. As long as your players have the right mentality, which we should have since our veteran players know how to operate on the road. All of our veterans know what is expected so our new guys just follow suit."
While it has not been announced who the starting quarterback will be against Fresno State, if it is senior Kendal Thompson, the offense will be made to fit his skill set.
"If he's our quarterback, things will be tailored to him, but we'll find out. Some things are not certain right now. What you want to do, no matter who the quarterback is, is play to his strengths and set things up to fit his skill set. We'll just see how the week progresses."
Thompson and fellow senior quarterback have more similarities than differences, according to Whittingham.
"[Kendal Thompson] and Travis [Wilson] are not dramatically different. They're both very mobile. Kendal can probably do a little more with his legs than Travis. Travis can probably do a little more with pocket stuff than Kendal does as far as the throwing game. They're both extremely intelligent. They both fit our system very well. There's more common ground than there are differences so it won't be a dramatic change in regard to who's in there. We don't expect to miss a beat."
For obvious reasons, true freshman wide receiver Britain Covey is getting rave reviews through two games. Covey does plan to take a two-year LDS Church mission.
"I hoped [that he would contribute right away] and we hoped so as a staff from what we saw when we recruited him and what we saw all during fall camp. I was raving about him all through fall camp and that's translated onto the field so far in game situations. He's done a great job for us. He's our leading receiver right now and has also had an impact in the punt return game.
"We knew going all through fall camp from practice one that he had some special abilities. The thing with him is that he's so smart. He never makes the same mistake twice. If you correct something with Britain Covey, it's done. You're never going to see that mistake show up again. That's a huge part of being a good football player, not having to be corrected over and over on the same issue. You combine that with his quickness, ability to catch the ball and toughness, like I said a couple weeks back, he has everything but great size. He has every other thing we look for in a football player.
"He has indicated to us that he plans on going on a mission next year and we fully support him. Whichever direction he wants to go, he has our support."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Hansen saw action in one play against Utah State, but his role could increase, especially if Wilson is not ready to go.
"You want to use your good players and Chase [Hansen] is one of our good players. He probably should have played more than he did on Friday night. Going forward throughout the rest of the season, he'll have a role and be a part of our offense. That's just something we want to do in all three phases: special teams, offense and defense. If we have good players, we want to give them opportunities to play."
On special teams, Whittingham said,
"They have been very average, although I think Tom Hackett, as disappointed as he is in his punting game, is leading the Pac-12 in punting individually. I think we're second or third in net punting. In the return game, we haven't had a chance to get a lot underway. Britain [Covey] had one nice return on Friday night, but not much has gone on there and it's the same with kickoff return because the teams we've played have done a nice job of kicking the ball through the back of the end zone. We just haven't, so far through two games, had the impact that we had last year, but it's still early in the season and things will pick up. Andy Phillips was perfect on his place kicks on Friday night and had a couple of kickoffs, but we haven't been as dominant as we were last year."
In their last game, Fresno State lost 73-21 at Mississippi. Whittingham took more away from that game about Mississippi than Fresno State.
"I learned that Mississippi is a very good team, I can tell you that much. They have a lot of great athletes out there. They were dominant, but other than that, the game got out of hand so quickly it really wasn't competitive after the first few minutes. There are still things you learn schematically and matchup-wise with [Fresno State's] personnel. You can take something from every game, but that game did get out of hand quickly."
On senior captain linebacker Gionni Paul, Whittingham said,
"Gionni Paul was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. Gionni has had an excellent first two outings. I thought he played extremely well on Friday night. He always seems to be around the football, had another interception and recovered a fumble as well. He is a big-play guy. He's opportunistic and he really is a leader for our defense. Between him and Jared Norris, those guys do a great job of providing leadership and inspiration for our guys."
Kylie Fitts, a transfer from UCLA, filled in at defensive end afte Hunter Dimick left the game with an injury.
"I've been saying all throughout the offseason that [Kylie Fitts] is a guy to be aware of and look out for and he delivered. He played excellent football on Friday night. We have four really good defensive ends between Hunter [Dimick], Jason Fanaika, [Fitts] and Pita [Taumoepenu], who had the play of the game [against Utah State]. His strip sack really turned things completely back in our favor, much like Justin Thomas' play the week before."
The Utah football team is 2-0, but they have a lot to improve on after two weeks of football.
"As I said earlier, we have a lot to work on. We're doing some good things. There are things we can build on. We really haven't gotten [Devontae] Booker on track yet. That has to happen. That will happen. I know it's going to happen at some point. We have to continue to get the outside receivers more involved. We talked about that last week. I think we did a little bit better job of that last week, but not good enough, so that's something we have to continue to improve. The pass rush has to continue to improve, we have to get more pressure there. We made incremental progress in the areas we're concerned with the most, but we still have a ways to go as we head into our last non-conference game so the clock is ticking."
Utah running back Devontae Booker has not had the kind of season many thought he would so far through two games, and much of that falls on the offensive line not opening up enough holes in the running game.
"Same comments as I had last week, we're not getting enough movement up front to create enough space. We did a little bit better job up front against Utah State, but not good enough. We have to create some opportunities and creases so [Devontae Booker] doesn't have to break four tackles to make five yards and that's been the M.O. the last couple of weeks. There's been some space here and there, but we haven't been consistent enough moving our feet and getting people off of the line of scrimmage. It's not assignment errors, we're getting on the right people, but we have to do a better job getting movement. We need some more physicality in our run game."
On the impact of a mobile quarterback for the offensive line, Whittingham said,
"It doesn't really change much. You get your assignment and the quarterback is there to make his read and pull the ball when it's applicable. It doesn't really change what you're doing schematically in your offensive line or technique-wise. The threat of a running quarterback certainly gives the defense problems, just the threat of him being able to pull the ball and do damage with his legs."
Junior cornerback Dominique Hatfield returned to action for the Utah football team on Friday night against Utah State and saw reps at both cornerback and on special teams.
"It was great to have Dominique back. He was a little rusty, you could see that, but he gave us about 30 snaps on defense and another eight to 10 on special teams. It was great to have him back with us. He'll continue to work his way into the rotation. For week 1, it was very good and we expect him to be better in week 2."
On his defensive secondary, Whittingham said,
"Well at corner, Reginald Porter, Cory Butler-Byrd and Dominique Hatfield will get a majority of the playing time. A couple of those [touchdown passes by Utah State] were great catches by the Utah State guys. We have blown a few coverages this season, but there were far less blown coverages last week than in week 1. Sometimes you can have great position and perfect coverage and the offense is still going to make the play. We just have to keep doing what we're doing. One thing we are doing is coming up with interceptions. The biggest stat through the first two games is the turnover margin (6-1 in favor of Utah). For a couple of years there, we couldn't get an interception to save our lives and it seems now that we're over that hump and we're creating takeaways with our defense, which is helping out the offense. Conversely, the offense is taking great care of the football and not putting the defense in bad situations."
It is still too early to tell the full impact of Co-Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach Jim Harding has had on the offense.
"We haven't changed much [schematically on offense] at all since last season, just a few minor adjustments, but he is putting his stamp on the offense. You will continue to see our offensive line get better and better as he has more opportunities to work with them. He's only been here a little over a year. It takes a couple of years to really get traction with your position group and have them completely take on your personality, your fundamentals, your techniques and performing how you want them to perform. That's a process."
Be sure to listen to our interview with defensive end Kylie Fitts as well.