Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media yesterday for his weekly press conference. He recapped the loss to the Stanford Cardinal and touched on the upcoming game with the USC Trojans.
"Stanford was a tough, physical game. Both sides played extremely hard, but we just came up short. Like I said after the game on Saturday night, they played better than us in that particular game. They were the better team that night. Offensively, we didn't do enough to win the game. Twenty points is not going to win you many games in the Pac-12. We turned the ball over a couple of times in addition to not enough output. We did some good things on defense. When you hold a team to 23 points, you usually are going to have the percentages in your favor to win a game, but what we didn't do on defense was create a little havoc. No takeaways and no sacks, so that was the downside of the defense. Otherwise, limiting a team to 14 first downs is really good and we will take that every week. Our offense had a lot of first downs, we moved the chains, but it didn't translate into points and that is the bottom line. But now we move on. We are still in good shape in the big picture. We were in really good shape before that game, and now we are just OK. We've got the Trojans at their place. They are a talented football team, as they are every single year. Sam Darnold, he has had a few setbacks this year, but I think he is just terrific. He is a phenomenal quarterback and a great athlete. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country without a doubt. We are going to have our work cut out for us on defense to try and slow them down. Offensively, we have to get things figured out. We have to put more points on the board and we just have to play better. We also have to coach them better. We have to put them in positions to succeed and do a better job with that."
He was asked what felt was the cause of the poor passing performance against Stanford.
"It was a combination of things. The protection wasn't great. We had a lot of people in Troy's face. But some of the pockets were clean and we didn't really need to flush, so there was a combination of things that led to an average or below average night throwing the football. We had some guys open that we missed on occasion or we had missed throws. But like I said, you just have to coach them better and get better this week."
He was asked what the coaches want to see in practice from the quarterbacks this week to make a decision on who will start at USC.
"Just going through the progression, putting the ball in the right spots, making the right reads, and taking care of the football first and foremost. Tyler's status is still up in the air, but if he is not able, then we will make sure we give Troy Williams and Cooper Bateman a shot and see who comes away with it."
He was asked if the coaches and team will look to make up for the loss of Tyler Huntley's ability to make electric plays somewhere else if he doesn't play at USC.
"Not really, because that is one of his strong suits is running the football and making people miss. He is very good in the open field and that is not as strong of a suit for Troy and definitely not for Cooper."
Marquise Blair has been excellent in his first season at Utah.
"We see a really good football player. He is instinctive, he'll hit you and at times he seems to be playing at a different speed than everyone else. The play will be going on and then all of the sudden there is this blur of color coming into the frame. He is so explosive and physically, he's not that big of a kid, but he will hit you like he is 250 pounds. He has speed, he is exceptionally fast. He is a guy that we did not have in spring ball, so everything he has done here has been positive and now he is in that starting role."
Utah has had issues with pass protection this season.
"Last game, we didn't do a good job of picking up movement. It isn't always just the offensive line. Running backs and tight ends are involved in protection as well, but I would say our biggest issue is doing a better job at the twist games."
True freshman Javelin Guidry earning the starting spot at nickelback against Stanford.
"First of all, he performs very well in practice all week every week. Every time we put him in a game, he seems to make plays and doing the right thing. Every position is competitive, there is nobody that has a lock on any position. If you are getting outplayed by someone, I don't care if they have been here for five years or five days, if you are playing better, you are getting the job. It is nothing against Boobie [Hobbs]. Boobie is a solid player for us, but Javelin has really flourished in our system. He has that great speed. As a secondary guy, to have that catchup speed is invaluable and he's got that."
Long snapping has been a problem in multiple games this season for Utah.
"The snapping, let's just go back and kind of chronicle the whole deal. First of all, we lost Chase Dominguez last year, who was a flawless snapper for four years. Harrison Handley had been his backup in a sense, he had been working on his snapping since he got here as a freshman and got to the point last year where we thought he would do this for us as a senior. We didn't think we'd need to invest in a scholarship for a snapper because Harrison had it down. He had a great spring and was having a great fall until he got hurt and was not able to participate for those three weeks. So during that time, we had another snapper in the program who was doing a good job, but could only stay if there was a scholarship available, but we knew Harrison was coming back so we didn't really have one to give out, so he transferred. The next guy up broke his arm. Alex Whittingham started working on it as well and was doing a good job, so we decided to go into the season with Alex and Harrison since those were the only two guys left. Alex, while Harrison was down during fall camp, had really done a nice job. It is difficult to play snapper and another position, especially on offense. Because if you are out there on a third down right before you punt, you don't get to take any warmup snaps and you have to go in cold. So, therefore we stayed with Alex and early in the year he was doing a really good job, then all of the sudden in the Arizona game we had a couple of bad snaps. Then we went back to Harry for the long snaps and he had a few struggles, so then we went back to Alex for the first snap of the second half and that didn't work out either. Bottom line, there is too much drama going on with the snaps and we have to get it fixed. We will get it fixed. The situation we are hoping will work out is Harrison handling the long snaps and Alex with the short snaps."
With the loss, Utah is no longer alone at the top of the Pac-12 South.
"You never know how it is going to unfold. I think there is so much balance in the league that who knows what kind of record you are going to need at the end to get in. I think it is too early to make that determination. We are just approaching it like any other week, to go and play a good football team and prepare and get ready."
USC quarterback Sam Darnold is starter for the second season after starting 10 games as a redshirt freshman last season.
"He is absolutely one of the best quarterbacks in the country and in my opinion should still be a Heisman Trophy candidate. What we see on film is an outstanding athlete and a great quarterback. I know they had the setback against Washington State, but he is the whole package. What he is now compared to when we first saw him, you can see him getting better and better. He has progressed every week."
The eyes of nation will be watching Utah this Saturday when they take on USC in primetime on ABC.
"It can be a big positive, particularly when you play well. If you have a big showing, win the game or play very well, it can have a big impact. It can also be the reverse for you because if you don't play well, it's not so good for you. It can go either way."
Senior Sunia Tauteoli is finally healthy after being banged up last season and has played well.
"First of all, it is great to have him healthy. Last year he battled injuries and was in and out and never really got into a rhythm. This year, he has been able to stay healthy for the most part. He is a very explosive, instinctive linebacker. He covers ground in small, confined quarters. He is really quick. He's not the fastest guy in the 40-yard-dash, but he is very quick and has great lateral movement. He can hit you, kind of like Marquise Blair. He is 225 pounds but he can hit you like a truck. When he hits you, you are certainly aware of it. He has been very productive for us this year. He is the team's leading tackler, so he is doing a great job."
Utah recruited USC's Sam Darnold when he was in high school.
"It could have, knowing now that we are in the thick of things in the Pac-12. What we saw then is exactly what he is doing. He has a quick release and a strong arm. He is athletic, mobile and just all of those things that you want in a quarterback. He was identified his sophomore year in high school as a tremendous basketball player. He is just a great athlete and someone we thought would be a great fit for our scheme."
Whittingham was asked if opposing defenses have learned to cover wide receiver Darren Carrington II.
"Stanford played a lot of man coverage and leaned the safety over to Darren's side. You could see the safety was very conscience of where Darren was lined up. But he still had a big game with 99 yards, so he still had a significant impact on the game. We should have put him in better situations to get the ball in the first half because all of his production came in the second. That is just going to be a decision that opposing defenses are going to make and we have to react. If they are going to double up on him and do things to take him away, then the other receivers have to pick up the slack. We have good receivers. It is not just a one-man show, Darren is obviously the leading receiver right now, but we have very capable guys in the program. If they double down on Darren, we shouldn't have to pay for it. We should be able to still have significant passing yards with the other guys."
Utah will have to try to stop Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones II if they want to leave Los Angeles with a victory.
"Same as always. We have to be gap sound and be good at running to the football, which I think our defense did a great job of running to the football on Saturday night. There was no lack of effort, the entire football team played with great effort. We have to do the same thing this week. They have a freshman running back that is outstanding, so it isn't just Jones. We have to be gap found, you have to know your run fits and you got to wrap up. We did miss about 15 tackles on Saturday, which is about five more than we wanted. If you can be single digits, or ten or less, that is pretty good tackling. Bryce Love is going to make you miss tackles. We did a decent job at slowing him down, but not a great job. Same thing this week as we faced last week in a sense where we have to be very sound against the run."
Wide receiver Raelon Singleton started to get involved more in the passing game against Stanford, but getting him the ball more will be key as the season progresses.
"I think as coaches we have to do more to get him involved. He is a talent. We have to put him in better situations and feature him a bit more. I think you are going to see him make a bigger impact as the season goes on."
Utah has the flexibility to mix and match Chase Hansen, Marquise Blair, and Corrion Ballard at safety.
"It allows us to be creative with Chase because we can bring him down in the box almost as more of a linebacker. If you watched closely, we played a lot of three safety schemes against Stanford on Saturday night. Obviously Marquise wasn't in during the first half because he wasn't available, but that allows us a lot of freedom with Chase and being able to plug him into those box situations to help us out. Chase is really part linebacker and maybe that is ultimately his best position. We will see what happens his senior year, but he is a really physical kid. And of course we have Marquise and Corrion and Philip Afia all coming back next year, so that opens up lots of possibilities down the road."