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Utah football: Receivers catching on with increased efficiency

Utah Utes wide receiver Jameson Field (10) and Utes wide receiver Demari Simpkins (7) get warmed up as Utah and Stanford prepare to play a football game in Palo Alto, California, on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.
Utah Utes wide receiver Jameson Field (10) and Utes wide receiver Demari Simpkins (7) get warmed up as Utah and Stanford prepare to play a football game in Palo Alto California on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s maligned receiving corps is catching on. They’re heating up as the season progresses. Dropped passes are no longer an issue.

Junior Demari Simpkins noted that fans and the team were getting frustrated with early showings.

“I put it on myself because, as a receiver group, our group, we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do,” he said. “We were the weak link.”

As a leader, Simpkins has encouraged the receiving corps to practice hard and increase production. He speaks to the group about it, even team receiving leader Britain Covey (33 catches), about making more plays.

“When everything’s clicking, that’s when we’re the best,” Simpkins said.

In Utah’s 40-21 win at Stanford on Saturday, quarterback Tyler Huntley completed 17 of 21 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown. The latter — a 57-yard scoring strike to Samson Nacua — was the first throw for a score by the Utes since the fourth quarter of a 41-10 victory over Weber State on Aug. 30.

“I’m going to be totally honest with you, I had no idea. No idea. Hell, the only thing I knew we lost two games in a row. I never even thought about a touchdown pass. I didn’t even know if we threw a ball to the end zone,” said receivers coach Guy Holliday. “I don’t look at the game that way. I look at the game, and if we have to run it 55 times to win, hell, let’s run it 55 times. If we have to throw it 65, let’s do that.”

Holliday added that it’s really overrated that you have to throw the ball or do this, or whatever.

“The bottom line is you’ve got to do whatever it takes to win the game,” he said.

As for Simpkins’s vocal leadership and rallying of the troops, Holliday is pleased with how the position group is responding.

“When things aren’t going good, you’ve got two choices. You either give in or you do more, and I tell them that all the time,” Holliday said. “Giving in isn’t an option for me. So I’m going to demand more and we’re going to do more.”

Holliday, though, added that really and truly it doesn’t matter what he says.

“It’s what they say. You know, that’s when teams are really good — when the players are leading the other guys,” Holliday said. “If I have to do it, then in critical times it’s going to break down. So that’s part of being a leader. You’ve got to step up in tough times and even tell your friends: ‘We’re not good enough right now.’ And Demari is one of those guys that will do that.”

GOOD MEMORIES: Whittingham has fond memories of former BYU play-by-play broadcaster Paul James, who died Saturday at age 87. Whittingham said he knew James well and considered him a great guy.

“He was just an institution down there at BYU for some many years as the announcer,” said Whittingham, who added that James was always very entertaining and recalled that he was a good magician. “I remember on the road trips he would have four or five guys huddled around him and he was always talking about something entertaining in some way, shape or form. It was sad to see him pass.”

LIFE OF REILLY: Utah student assistant Trevor Reilly, who played in the NFL after a stellar career with the Utes, padded up for the scout team in practice. Whittingham said Reilly’s status as a student assistant allows him to get involved in such a manner.

“It just gives us one more capable body to run scout team,” Whittingham explained.

EXTRA POINTS: Utah’s homecoming game against USC on Saturday, Oct. 20 will kick off at 6 p.m. and be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. … Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is scheduled to attend Friday’s Utah-Arizona clash at Rice-Eccles Stadium. … Whittingham was named Dodd Trophy National Coach of the Week. … Senior kicker Matt Gay was named a Lou Groza Award “Star of the Week” for his 16-point performance in the win over Stanford.