Head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media on Monday for his weekly press conference. He recappedSaturday’s win over San Jose State and looked ahead to this week’s matchup against Arizona.
“I thought it was a good effort by our football team on Saturday night to close out non-conference play. All three phases made major contributions to win. Defensively you’ve got a bunch of takeaways; we sacked the quarterback, played the run physically, we did everything we tried to accomplish on defense. Offense put up a bunch of points, 54 points. We had a great deal of help from special teams on defense – I think we started eight drives in San Jose State territory, so that helps your production on offense. Tyler Huntley had another big night. Almost 400 yards of total O [offense]. He’s throwing the ball exceptionally well – over 70 percent completion percentage, which is outstanding. He took a few less hits on Saturday night as well, which is great. We want to make sure we keep trending in that direction where he takes fewer hits. Special teams -- Boobie Hobbs had a big night returning the punts. He had nearly 100 yards of punt-running yardage. So, overall a good night. Matt Gay was outstanding and he continues to be perfect for us. He has not missed since he took over the duties earlier in the year. A lot of positives. It’s a good way to close out non-conference play. Were 3-0 heading into league play and it all starts off in TucsonFriday night at the University of Arizona. We’ve got to be ready to play. They’re coming off a big win against UTEP [The University of Texas at El Paso] with a lot of points scored – 60 plus points, so away we go Pac – 12.”
On the biggest key to Tyler Huntley’s efficiency so far…
“He’s a tremendous athlete, for starters. He’s got a great arm, he’s accurate and he’s well coached. Troy Taylor has done a great job presenting the new offense to him and getting him completely where he needs to be as far as his reads and progression to where he’s going with the ball. He’s a good decision-maker – very good decision- maker. I know he has a couple throws that he wishes he could get back but like I said, over 70 percent completion. If we can keep that trend then we’re going to have a very successful year.”
Whittingham address moving into Pac – 12 play and if the team is ready…
“The level of competition certainly goes up and we’re aware of that. We’ve done what we’re supposed to do in the first three games but I think most teams in the country don’t know a lot about themselves still so early in the year. We’re still finding out what our strengths are, what we’re good at, and what we need to get better at. This will definitely be our stiffest test of the year.”
Speaking on Arizona on how they’ve successfully run the ball against Utah…
“They have had success. Last year, not so much. I think it was 120 or 130 yards which is where you have to keep them if you want to have a chance to win the game.” They run the read zone as well as anyone in the country. They’ve got a quarterback that’s an exceptional runner. That’s what they look for. -- their quarterback to be a dual-threat. But, we have struggled with them. We beat them the first year, the last year, and lost four in between. In the games we lost we did not do a good job defending the run. That’s got to be job one this week as it is every week.”
What the Utes need to work on before Pac -12 play…
“Penalties. We still need to get better. We were much better on Saturday night I think we had 50 or 60 yards in penalties which is about half of what we’ve been averaging the first two weeks so that was good to see. We still need to continue to put touchdowns on the board in the red zone. We did a better job of that as well Saturday night but overall in the first three games we haven’t been effective enough. More production, more efficiency in the run- game. Special teams wise we haven’t got much going in the kickoff return game. Everybody has a kicker that can kick the ball to the end zone now. The kick return is becoming a dinosaur. We haven’t had very many opportunities, but the opportunities that we have had, we haven’t done much with. We have a lot to work on. It’s a short week but we will continue to work on our deficiencies.”
How key is the linebacker play this week going against Arizona?
“That’s key every week in a run defense – linebacker play, and against Arizona in particular.”
How well do you think the linebackers have progressed?
“I think they’re playing well. Sunia Tauteoli was all over the place on Saturday night and maybe had his best game as a Ute. David Luafatasaga seems to have picked up where he left off last year. The light switch came on for him during the final third of the season. And then Cody Barton comes in and gives us good reps and Donovan Thompson. I’m very pleased with the whole defense. There really hasn’t been a spot on defense or a position on defense where you say ‘they’re not up to speed.’ Everyone has been playing well.”
Will we see Devonta’e Henry-Cole take on a larger role in the coming weeks?
“We’re going to try and get him more involved. Part of that is up to him being sight and sound and making sure he’s got all his pass protections, blitz pick up and all that type of stuff down pact. That’s been holding him back a little bit but he’s been working hard to get up to speed on that. When the ball is in his hands he’s a very talented runner. That’s something that he really brings to the table. Coach Taylor is not going to make any compromises. He’s (Henry-Cole) really got to do his part as a complete running back, not just when the ball is in his hands. Kind of like our receivers – they’ve got to block. It’s not just about when we throw you the ball what happens, it’s when you don’t have the ball. He’s working hard and getting closer to be where he needs to be. This maybe is the week where he gets a chance to really get some significant carries.”
Has Darren Carrington exceeded expectations?
“Nope! He’s been exactly where I thought he would’ve been. We defended him so we knew him very well. He has not surprised me or exceeded what we were hoping. He’s doing exactly what we envisioned and we hope it continues. He and Tyler seem to have great chemistry and trust. Tyler is very confident when he throws to him as he is with other receivers. Roy Singleton made a heck of a catch in the end zone for a touchdown. I don’t want it to just be the Darren Carrington show. That’s part of what we are but we’ve got a lot of other weapons but Darren has certainly lived up to expectations.”
Accounting for Arizona’s dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins…
“When he drops back to pass some teams have tried to put a spy on him. That spy has to be pretty athletic because there’s no use to have a spy if the spy can’t make the play when it’s there to be made. They’ve got to be very conscious of the front – maintaining pass lanes and leverage on the quarterback and keeping him in that cage because he’s at his best when he escapes.”
What did Samson Nacua do to earn a bigger role in the offense?
“Well, he’s colored his hair and he’s growing it out. It looks really good. That was the starting point. After that, he’s running exceptional routes. His hands are as good as there is on a football team although he did have one drop on Saturday night. He’s physical after the catch. In this offense it’s all about finding open space and he does a great job at that.”