Coach Kyle Whittingham looked back on Utah’s win over USC and looks ahead to this week’s game against UCLA.
You can listen to the press conference in its entirety or read some of his quotes below.
”I was proud of the way our guys played on Saturday night. It was another strong performance. Our offense has been very productive three weeks in a row…The defense was very good. We had a couple of breakdowns on special teams, which is concerning, and we gotta get those fixed. Otherwise, it was a good game. The atmosphere was great. Shout out to our fans for making it a great home field advantage for us, and The Muss, of course. The Muss was there in full force. There were a lot of good things on Saturday night and now it’s on to the next one. We are at UCLA on Friday night and it is a short week, so we have to accelerate our preparation. We have a plan in place that we adhere to and so we will jump into that this week. They are coming off a couple of wins and have some momentum right now. With Cal and Arizona, they’ve got two wins in a row and scored 30-plus points in each of those games, and so, we have to go down and play well again. That’s just the nature of the conference, you have to play well week-in and week-out. Right now, like I said, we have a little momentum on our side.”
Does Whittingham consider the USC game the best game of Tyler Huntley’s career?
”Probably so. He has had some really good games for us, but if you were to narrow it down to the best game? -- His passing rating was outstanding, it was right in the 200s, which is as good as you are going to find. He took care of the football, ran the football effectively and got out of some really tough spots in the pocket a couple of times. So yeah, I think I would have to concur with that -- agree with that.”
What is different about this group of defensive linemen and linebackers than in years past?
”We have had some stout run defenses in the past and that’s always been the starting point on defense is to take away the run. But I think personnel. We have outstanding personnel, and we’ve had good personnel in the past as well and we’ve put up some good numbers, but this group really seems to be finding their place at each position. Each guy in each position has really done a good job. We haven’t really had a spot that has been concerning or not getting play out of one spot. There is always room for improvement, but everyone is playing pretty well across the board on defense, but particularly in the front seven, well the front six now – it used to be the front seven. The front six is playing very well.”
How do you maintain consistency through the years?
“Staying on an even keel, trying to avoid being too high or too low – just being consistent in your approach. This group has been great about that. Their preparation week-in and week-out is very consistent. No peaks or valleys, they come out and take care of their business on the practice field, in the meeting room and that is really where it starts and they’ve done a great job of that.”
How different are UCLA’s two quarterbacks?
“Well Speight is the guy we saw at Michigan several years back, so we’ve seen him. He’s a big kid, 6-6, more of a pocket guy. And the freshman is more of a dual threat. A Chip Kelly offense is traditionally and typically a run first offense. He really had that going on Oregon, when they were just running the ball up and down the field and were averaging like 300 yards a game. We don’t know who is going to play, at least I haven’t heard – maybe you know more than I do right now. We’ll prepare for both of them. But yea, one is more of a dual threat and one is more of an in-the-pocket guy.”
Why has the passing game improved over the last three games?
“Probably the same things I’ve said the last few weeks as far as what has been the catalyst for the offense in general is that it starts up front. The offensive line has been very good in protection the last several weeks. The drops with the receivers seemed to have become much fewer. Tyler has been very good with his reads and being patient in the pocket. So, I think you just combine all of that, plus as much as anything, is the run game. People have to respect the run game, and usually the throw game is a benefactor of that, but in years past we have had a strong run game and the throw game and haven’t been able to throw with the efficiently we needed. That’s not always the case but that’s certainly the case this year. Zack did a great job on Saturday night, so when they have to pack the box to stop the run game, that opens up options for the throw. We are also getting very proficient in the RPO game, and that is a strength of Tyler’s. The RPO is one of the things he does well and that’s a relatively new concept and it’s something we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of.”
Would the defense get more national attention if they were in a different conference?
“I don’t care, I don’t pay attention to that. You only control your controllables and we don’t put a lot of stock in that. You are only good as your last performance. We are just barely over the halfway point, so there is still a lot of ball left to play. We have a lot of challenges ahead and so we are just trying to be consistent in our approach. There are things we are doing well, but there are a lot of things we can improve on, and that’s the focus – improving on our shortcomings.”
Whittingham on the development of Maxs Tupai:
“The light switch has just come on and sometimes there really is no explanation for that. A guy will be in your program and not make a lot of noise or do much, and then all of the sudden, something clicks. That is what has happened with Maxs. He is turning into the exact player that we had hoped he would be when we recruited him and that has been a huge plus for us. We were a little thin at depth at d-end and to have him playing at the level he is playing at has made a ton of difference, especially with Mika Tafua. Tafu was out for a period of time, and so he not only picked up the slack but exceeded everybody’s expectations.”
How closely does UCLA’s offensive scheme resemble Oregon’s during the Kelly era?
“Quite a bit. He is just getting it implemented and get it started and I am sure it will continue to get closer to what he wants it to be. The basics are there. He plays with tempo and the formations are very similar and the run schemes are very similar”
How happy is Whittingham with how balanced the run, pass offense has been in the last three weeks?
”Very much so. The blue print that we have had the last several weeks has been perfect, and I hope we continue – I shouldn’t say perfect – very good—very productive. In our estimation, when we are at our best, that is who we are. What you have seen in the last three games, we know it’s not going to be like that every week. Some weeks you are going to have to run more, some you are going to have to pass more, but the last few weeks have been very balanced. It has been ideal as far as what we are looking for.”
Whittingham on the performance of Chase Hansen and Cody Barton this season:
“They have been outstanding. Not only from a production factor on the field, but also from a leadership standpoint, making sure everything is going how it should be going, in the weight room, in the meeting room, those two have been outstanding for us. They are both very productive and making a bunch of plays. Chase had an outstanding game last week. That interception is as athletic of a play as you will see a linebacker make. So those guys have been invaluable to our success as a program.
After a player leaves the program does Whittingham reevaluate the player and what the general process is to recruit?
“Well you are always evaluating everything. You hate to see players leave, but you try to move on. As far as guys coming into the program, we don’t reevaluate everything. If you ever think you have all of the answers and don’t think you need to get better, then you are going to be in a bad spot. The culture of this program is very important to us and I think we have developed a pretty good one here. Our guys seem to be close knit and get along with each other, but in this day-in-age in football to say you aren’t going to have anybody leave your program ever is unrealistic. You just have to focus on the players you have in the program and if anybody chooses to move on, we wish them well and hope it works out.”
Are coaches having a harder time keeping players around because of the amount of transfers around the country in recent years?
“Yeah it is probably a little more difficult in recent years. With the new rule, I didn’t think that it would make that much of a difference, and I don’t think it has. Most of the time, if an athlete thinks he will have a better opportunity somewhere else, you aren’t going to hold him back. Also the other problem with early departures is the NFL. So yeah, you recruit them to get them in the program and you have to keep recruiting them while they are with you and try to hang on to them. Some positions are more prone to transfer than others, that is just the nature of the beast.”
When asked if Whittingham had anything specifically to say about Jack Tuttle leaving the program:
“No. Not right now. Like I said in the release, we just wish him the best and we’re just focusing on the task that we have at hand, which is right now, UCLA.”
“What kind of effect does a game like they played against USC have on recruits?
“Obviously very positive. It is great to be able to be on a national stage that when you play well and the kids see that, it projects well. We had a fairly substantial recruiting weekend this past weekend, so it was very positive. I think it had a big impact, but we will see.”
How was USC able to “bring the heat” against Mitch Wishnowsky?
“They had a good plan. We knew coming in that they had been fairly aggressive with their punt return units, they do a great job typically with special teams. The two issues we had, one was a near block and we didn’t block it correctly with a miscount on the protection and then the one they got a hand on, we had a snap that pulled Mitch off his spot and he had to scramble to get back to his launch spot. When they are bringing max heat and the timing is disrupted, it usually isn’t a good thing.”
Challenges with the rest of the Pac-12 schedule?
“We have UCLA and that is our challenge right now. You can’t look past anyone in this conference. Our guys do a great job of not looking past any team. So, I couldn’t even tell you who we play next week. We have all of our focus, all of our attention, everything is centered on the Bruins.”