The Utah Utes open up Pac-12 play at Rice-Eccles Stadium against the Washington Huskies this week. Head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the matchup during this week’s press conference and also spoke about the Utes’ coming off their win to Northern Illinois.
You can listen to the presser in its entirety or read some of the statements Whittingham made below.
Coach Kyle Whittingham’s opening remarks:
“Yes it’s good to be 2-0 heading into Pac-12 play. Yes, Zack Moss probably should have gotten a few more carries than he did. No, the offensive line didn’t perform very well. They need to get better. We need to coach them better. We have good players up front and we expect them to be better this week. They are a prideful group and they will respond, in our opinion. Yes we had too many drops in the game – four or five drops, which were driver killers, which really was our offensive problem in the game – finishing drives. We moved the ball decently but we didn’t finish drives. The name of the game is to score points and we didn’t do enough that offensively. We understand that. We give credit to Northern Illinois. They played well and they had and excellent plan. My guess is that they’re going to win a lot of games this year in the MAC (Mid-American Conference). Yes Chase Hansen is a beast and was all over the place. His transition to linebacker was exactly what we hoped it would be. I understand he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week…” “Yes, our special teams was disappointing again – for the second week in a row. I mean it’s ironic, the same exact issues – another blocked field goal and a punt that hit one of our return guys which was recovered by our opponent. So, the two exact things that happened in game one happened in game two which is something that has got to be corrected and it will be. The blocked field goal was a low kick. Those of you that were there know the wind was pretty strong that evening and it was swirling around. He (Matt Gay) tried to kick it a little lower to get more of a piercing effect under the wind but he kicked it too low and unfortunately the guy blocked it. With the punts as well, it’s tough because the ball is swarming around up there. Our return guy was trying to get his block and bled off into the returner and it hit off his back and then another turnover there. We have to get that fixed and we will this week. Washington is very much deserving of their top 10 ranking. They’re as complete a football team as there is in the country in my opinion. They’ve got talent in every spot. They had a tough loss in the opening week against Auburn. Auburn is a terrify football team as well. They slugged it out and went toe-to-toe with those guys and came up short but bounced back last week in a fairly easy win. It should be a great environment Saturday night and I’m looking forward to a great crowd. Our guys will be ready – juiced up. We will see what we can do.”
Why were there numerous sacks in the Northern Illinois game?
“They didn’t bring much pressure and so it wasn’t a matter of a high dose of pressure and not being able to handle that. It was just not performing as well as we need to up front. Receivers not uncovering as quickly as maybe they need to and maybe holding onto the ball a beat too long at times. Six sacks is not good. It’s awful. It hurts your rush yards. We have to get it fixed. There’s no doubt about it that we can’t perform the same way this week and hope to have a chance to win the game.”
Whittingham addresses fair catching at the 25-yard line:
“We did extensive research when they changed the rule in the off-season. We went back several years and looked at every kick off return that was brought out – either out of the end zone or an area that was near the end zone – such as 5 yards in – and some 80 plus percent – not just us, everyone we studied – did not reach the 25-yard line. So just playing percentages. We’re not going to fair catch every ball. We have certain zones I guess you can call it, where if it’s kicked in a certain zone we have a green light to go ahead and return it. But, the 25-yard line is not bad field position and the data backs it up to fair catch more often than not when the ball is deep. That’s the main reason but other factors are involved, such as, how dangerous is your returner, and some other things that go into it. But just as a general rule and looking at the raw data, it makes sense to fair catch it and that’s what we’ve opted to do a great deal of time.”
What has been Chase Hansen’s key to success from adjusting to secondary to the linebacker position?
“First of all, it wasn’t that big of an adjustment because he spent a lot of time as a safety down in the box in a linebacker job description situation, so it was not new to him in that respect. He’s got the size and the strength and he’s 230 plus pounds. He’s got great speed. He’s a prototypical linebacker, which is what the guys at the next level look for. Instinctive, tough and all those same qualities he had as a line of safety, he just transformed closer to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker. I’m not trying to paint the picture that it’s an easy transition because it’s not – everybody can’t do it. Hansen’s got the skill set and just the make up to be successful there. It’s helped out our defense. It’s made us a faster defense.”
Why has there been a breakdown on special teams during the first two games?
“First of all, let’s talk about the field goal blocks. The first one was blocked two weeks ago and that was a breakdown of protection – we had penetration. And last week was just a low kick. Prior to that we have not had a kick blocked since 2012. So, fluke, bad luck, I don’t know. I would say that the balls bouncing off of our returners is more misfortune than anything else. They are working hard and trying to get their blocks. We have to do a better job of peaking the football, you know, as we get in position to block for our punt returner, locating the returner himself and find out where he is, and make sure he make sure we’re oriented properly. Those have been the issues there. Kickoff return has really been a non-factor because we’ve primarily been fair catching and taking the ball at the 25 (25-yard line). Our punt game is alright -- I think we’re second or third in the pac-12 and that’s without Mitch Wishnowsky really getting into a groove yet. It hasn’t been all a disaster but it hasn’t been what we’re used too. We have to get it corrected because that’s usually an advantage for us – week in and week out – our special teams, but it hasn’t been the case the first two weeks.”
When receivers drop the ball does it cost them playing time?
“If it’s consistent and a pattern, it will cost you playing time without a doubt. I don’t know anybody who is going to go the entire season without a drop -- it’s going to happen on occasion, rare occasion. If it starts to be a trend or a pattern, than absolutely it’s going to affect playing time. That will be starting this week that you will see that.”
How much of the offense is Whittingham holding back for a team like Washington?
“We’re just trying to win. We don’t hold anything back. We’re trying to win every game and be as productive and as potent as we can offensively, so we’re not in a situation where we’re trying to save things. We’re trying to be as good as we can every week.”
After Whittingham watched film on the Northern Illinois games, is he more optimistic about the offense than he was immediately after the game?
“Yea, I think so. I’m more encouraged knowing that a drive – some ignorant penalties showed up too and I didn’t address that. We had some penalties, like holds that were behind the football and not relevant to the play that we just have to be cleaner and coaching better. It’s just a matter of finding ways to not kill drives – whether it be an ignorant penalty or a dropped ball or whatever the case might be. I overreacted a little but after the game, which I have a tendency to do, but we’ll be alright. My guess is that we will have a great practice and go into this game ready to go and see what happens.”
Tyler Huntley, Britian Covey and Chase Hansen spoke at Monday’s press conference as well. Listen to their interviews here: