clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Utah football notebook: Utes need to improve passing game, something they've made a priority all season

Utah Utes quarterback Troy Williams passes in the game against USC during NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016.
Utah Utes quarterback Troy Williams passes in the game against USC during NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016.
Laura Seitz,

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah coach Kyle Whittingham attempted to encapsulate where the Utes are as they head into a bye week, he acknowledged what the team needed to fix while pointing out that they’re still in a very good position to close out the season better than they ever have since joining the Pac-12.

“It comes down to a three-game season,” he said during his weekly press conference Monday. “Right now we’re in a position, headed into November, to control our own destiny. It’s not ideal, not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good.”

In addition to healing some of the injuries his players have sustained, Whittingham said one aspect of emphasis will be Utah’s passing game.

“We’ve got to get better at some things,” he said of watching video of Utah’s loss to No. 4 Washington. “We’re still not throwing the ball as effectively as we need to, and that really was the difference for us as we need to get more out of the throwing game.”

The teams were statistically similar — except in passing efficiency. Washington finished with 186 passing yards, while Utah had 163. But Washington quarterback Jake Browning went 12 for 20 with a 9.3 average, while Utah’s Troy Williams was 14-of-33 with a 4.9 average.

Troy Williams said he agrees with Whittingham’s assessment.

“We’re just going to continue to try and fix our mistakes,” Williams said. “There were a lot of good DBs out there last week, potential NFL players. At the end of the day, we have to be better as a passing offense, try to be more efficient.”

Tight end Evan Moeai, who caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Williams that tied the game with 9:07 left in the game, said he sees some specific ways he can contribute to some improvements.

“I think there are a lot of things I can improve myself,” Moeai said. “I gotta take care of the drops. Drops are huge, and they’re drive killers, and that hurts. I really got to make sure I’m making those plays when I have the chance. And then, getting open, running crisp routes, running every route like you know you’re going to get the ball. I think that could really help the offensive passing game, and help Troy out to be able to make some of those throws.”

As this season started, Whittingham acknowledged that the passing game was Utah’s “Achilles heel” and that it was a priority this season. He went so far as to say it was critical in chasing — and winning — a conference championship.

PUNT RETURN

As for Dante Pettis’ 58-yard punt return that gave the Huskies the victory, Whittingham was conflicted about talking about breaking down the play. “No comment,” he said. “We just got to play it better. …We had our chance to terminate it. …The kick wasn’t ideal, not quite enough hang time, wasn’t in the zone we called for. …The irony is that if we’d executed that punt, we’d have had our best punt day in maybe 15 years. (It was) a phenomenal day punting, except that last rep, which you can’t take back. So it put a damper on a good outing by Mitch.”

RESPECT RANKING

Utah may have lost, but that didn’t hurt the Utes in the rankings. They moved up to No. 16 in the AP poll (from 17) and stayed at 16 in the Coaches’ poll.

Both coach and players said it was likely an indication of how much respect voters had for both programs.

“I was pretty shocked,” said safety Chase Hansen, who earned an interception in the loss. “But I think, like Coach Whittingham said, it’s a sign of respect. But we’re not too worried about rankings right now. We’re more worried about where we are (in the standings). But it’s still pretty cool.”

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: adonsports