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Podcast: Can Ute offense find its groove against No. 10 Washington?

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Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the third episode of Ute Insiders— a podcast from Deseret News writers Dirk Facer, Amy Donaldson and Trent Wood. It's been edited for clarity.

Dirk Facer: On this week's Deseret News Ute Insiders, we break down Utah's 17-6 win over Northern Illinois, look ahead to the big game with the Washington Huskies, we also visit with Utah athletic director Mark Harlan, break down the PAC-12 South games this week, and we got a lot more than that. Stay tuned for this episode of Ute Insiders.

Welcome to another episode of the Deseret News Ute Insiders. I'm Dirk Facer, joined today by colleagues Amy Donaldson and Trent Wood. Amy, Trent, how are you this week?

Trent Wood: Doing good.

Amy Donaldson: A million bucks over here.

DF: Good. That's what we need. It's probably a little better than the Utes. So let's jump right into things. Utah defeated Northern Illinois 17 to 6 but it took a late 40-yard interception return by Chase Hansen to seal the deal here. Amy, what's your take on the game considering they've got Washington coming up?

AD: Um, I think that my take on the game was Utah's always good at defense. And we know that. And maybe I just have to stop expecting them to ever be prolific on offense.

DF: Trent, what do you think?

TW: I think we're all prone to overreactions and you look at some of the stuff from that game, they actually played better than it appeared live. But it looked pretty bad live.

AD: So we didn't see what we saw, that's what you're saying?

TW: Yeah.

DF: You know it's one of those things, in talking to the players and coaches after the game, everybody kind of played it off as, you know, that's the second game of the year, a win's a win even though Kyle Whittingham said he never looks at things that way. But is a win a win? I mean, good enough, 2-0 going into the Washington game?

TW: I mean, we don't know who any of these teams are yet. It was only week 2 of the season. We don't know how good Northern Illinois is, we have no idea how good Utah is yet so I mean at this point it's hard to make any overarching claims.

AD: Well I would say no. A win is not a win because a win masks problems. When you lose you know you have stuff to address because you hate losing and it impacts where you can play in a bowl and all that stuff, so you address a lot. I think it's easier to get the attention of your players and make fixes when you lose and then there's just this idea, but we won, right? So the result keeps you from addressing that maybe you didn't deserve to win that game.

DF: What are the red flags, then? There's some obvious ones there — talk about the offense, for one thing, and in fact the defense got the job done. But one offensive touchdown. Amy, what do you think's wrong with the offense right now?

AD: Well I think in that game I think it was, I don't know what happened to the offensive line. I mean I think the offensive line play was just a completely different story in the second game. Was it a better team? You know, did they face a better defensive line? I don't know, Weber's was pretty good too. But yeah, the offensive line play, and I think that led to a very anemic ground game and if Utah doesn't run the ball they're not going to beat the teams they need to beat.

DF: Trent, what did you think?

TW: Yeah, I mean along with that I think the poor offensive line play forced Tyler Huntley to go to what he feels most comfortable with, which is quarterback carries, and it just did not work. And so when he threw the ball it worked well, he just didn't have time to throw it and so then he got flustered and started running the ball and it did not work for them.

DF: Right. I think he had 19 times he carried the ball and a few of 'em was just holding on to the ball while he was getting the crud kicked out of him. But Northern Illinois did have a nice pass rush. Sutton Smith is obviously an NFL talent

TW: He was in the backfield the entire game.

DF: The entire game. He had the playbook, didn't he?

AD: One more cliché, you win some Twizzlers.

DF: You know the big thing after that was probably the receiving game. A lot of people are talking about when's Utah going to be able to throw the ball effectively. Britain Covey, eight catches. Nobody else on the team had more than two. I had a chance to catch up with Britain at the press conference on Monday and here's what he had to say:

Britain Covey: I'm a lot more encouraged now — I've been watching film — than I was after the game. And a lot of it stems back to what (Whittingham) said, you know, we just kind of shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times. We would have drives where we were moving the ball, first down, second first down, and then all of a sudden we'd have a holding penalty, a drop ball or a sack and those are just drive-killers.

DF: After the game you complimented your receiving corps. How are the guys right now, because a lot of them are dropping passes and that. Are they discouraged or do you sense everybody's up?

BC: You know, it's such a mental game and what we're just focusing on is not listening to the outside noise. Because you've got so many people, obviously — what you realize in sports is opinion is so fickle. It just changes, you now. People love you one moment and they don't the next. You've got to focus on what you believe about yourself and what your teammates believe about you. And some of the guys that maybe were a little bit discouraged, be what it be — dropped balls, playing time, missed assignments, we kind of just gathered together this morning and we believe in each other and we're not listening to what other people say, you know. We know what we have to prove. And so we're a really tight-knit group, even tighter knit than we were my freshman year, so I'm really excited for what we're going to show the rest of the year.

DF: Confident?

BC: Yeah, I'm very confident. I mean I think it's natural to overreact a little bit, but at the same time we need to play better and we know that. So you know, we're just kind of trying to keep it within ourselves and not listen to what the outside is saying.

DF: All right, it's pretty obvious Britain Covey still believes in his position group, feels like there's talent there to get the job done. He's not really hitting the panic button. What do you guys think?

AD: I think he's right. I mean, but it's Britain and Britain's a great leader and he did that after the first game when he had a great game. He believes in the guys and he's a great leader and he's gonna keep building them up, that's what he does. They do have the talent to get the job done. But they need an offensive line that can give Tyler Huntley time to throw passes to the right guys.

DF: Well, Trent, we mentioned before we went on the air here that there are some young receivers that stepped up and made some big catches. Expound on that a little bit.

TW: Jalen Dixon had only two catches, but one was a big over-the-shoulder catch that he had in that game. Solomon Enis, every time he's gotten on the field, has shown that he can play receiver. I think all of the receivers have shown glimpses of being good players, it's just they haven't been consistent, other than Covey. I think that's the big thing they have to figure out.

DF: Now obviously the talent's there but they've got to, in practice, to kind of open things up again because some of these younger players or new players to the program, are going to get an opportunity. It's all about catching the ball isn't it? Now, Amy you made a good point a minute ago and whenever you make a good point, I highlight it and you talked about Tyler Huntley not having much time to get rid of the ball. He was sacked six times. I got a chance to catch up with Tyler at media day as well. He's still in one piece. Do you feel like it is just execution or what other things did you see that maybe could be touched on?

Tyler Huntley: I felt like it was the execution because everything that went wrong in the game is like things that we knew we should've done. Things were there and it just didn't happen as that happened. You know what I'm saying? So it kinda made it just like one person could mess up, you know what I'm saying? One thing could mess up a whole play. So I felt like that happened a lot last week. If everybody takes care of their job we'll be fine.

DF: No need to hit the panic button. All right, execution obviously the big thing with Tyler Huntley. Is it time to even think about having somebody else play quarterback for the Utes? Or is it way too early?

AD: Wrong answer.

TW: Yeah, it's way too early. That was week 2. I mean, you have to give — he's the returning starting quarterback, you got to give him more time.

AD: Well, and I think if you get sacked six times they're in your head, right? So there's that aspect. But also, I think there's this idea that, where's my line? You know, if I have to protect myself by running or moving or collapsing on the ball? You can't think about much else. And I mean, when Zack (Moss), there was less than 100 yards rushing for the team. That's not a Utah team. That's not a Utah game. So I don't think it's on Tyler. I don't think it's indicative of what he can do or what he's capable of. It is indicative of what kind of leader he's going to be how they bounce back from that.

DF: Yeah, I agree with you. And I think also the fact that — I think a lot of people are making a big issue of the fact that Utah needs to be a ground team that just pounds them and then gets you on defense. But Kyle Whittingham said at the start of the year, if they want to take that step to the next level and be a contender, they have to get a throw game together.

AD: And I'm so tired of that. You have to do what you do well, first. Right? They have to have a ground game. They have to. They're Utah. And they're going to rely on defense. I mean, at some point, this is your identity. Own it. And then you can expand and they have the receivers to have a nice passing game and they've had good passing yards in both games, but they have to stick with what they do well.

DF: A lot was made that Zack Moss maybe didn't get enough touches in the game. That was brought up at the press conference and such, but I think one thing that was lost on this, and he had 16 carries, his longest run of the day was 12 yards. He didn't break any away.

TW: Yeah, that's true. I mean it's also weird that they don't seem to hand the ball off to anybody but Moss. You didn't see Armand Shyne come in, you didn't see T.J. Green come in. They came in for one or two carries at a time and so it feels like if they're gonna run the ball more like they should, they need to get some of those other guys involved. Obviously, Zack Moss is the feature back but he's got to get a break sometime.

DF: Well, and then Tyler Huntley had the longest run of the day, 20-yarder, so you know he's obviously a weapon to run the ball too so I think when you say maybe that it's you know one-dimensional, obviously they have a quarterback they can run too. Which is a little dangerous.

AD: But if a third of your yards are coming from your quarterback you're in trouble. Your ground yards, your rushing yards. That's what I say and I challenge you to a duel of Sprite.

DF: All right guys well here come the real Huskies. They played the Northern Illinois puppy dogs and now they go to the big dogs. What do you think guys? Is Utah ready for this? Because in a way, if you think about it, Utah coming off a subpar performance may not be a bad thing because you know gets the players focus and attention, not that the Pac-12 opener against the league favorites wouldn't, but there's some things they need to tweak. Trent, what do you think going into this Huskies game?

TW: I mean, isn't the cliche with Utah football they play to the level of their opponent? They've done that the entire Kyle Whittingham era and so I can't imagine it's not a close, hard-fought game. Because every time they play good teams they play them well. They might not win but they'll be close.

AD: I think it's gonna be a close game. I think that's sort of been their relationship with Washington and I don't know if there are some similarities in what they do, or in the way the coaches approach the game but I think that it's going to be a really close one and whoever wins is going to do just as much as they need to to win and both teams are kind of in that cycle right now.

DF: What's the one thing, that you had to get down to one thing that Utah needs to do to win this game. Amy, what would you think?

AD: Have better offensive line play.

TW: I think it's gonna be the secondary against Jake Browning. I think that's the most interesting thing and I think if they win that they win the game.

DF: What about the linebackers? Obviously you had Cody Barton and Chase Hansen (Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week) combine for 25 tackles. They were all over the field against Northern Illinois. Gonna be a different story this week, just because of the higher level of play that they're going against?

TW: They're still going to get a lot of chances. Washington likes to run the ball and they're going to do a lot of short passes as well. It's not just deep routes for Washington, so they're still going to have to be incredibly involved.

AD: I think you're gonna see Marquise Blair have an amazing game. That's my prediction for the game. You're going to see some great defensive play from that kid this game.

DF: Do you guys think there's any advantage, and we really didn't see it last year, obviously, but Troy Taylor knowing (Jake) Browning as well as he does? Tendencies, anything like that? Or are they too far removed from high school?

AD: Yeah. I don't think so.

TH: Yeah, I don't think any.

AD: Thanks for asking though. We appreciate it.

DF: Now it's time for our weekly 'Utah by 5' segment. I had an opportunity to catch up with new Utah athletic director, Mark Harlan. And he's in the podcast business himself. We talked about that and a few other things.

Mark, appreciate you joining us for this segment. I was going to ask you — how have things worked out at Utah, you had experience being in the Pac-12 at Arizona, UCLA. Everything you thought about Utah come true, or?

Mark Harlan: Well, absolutely. I mean, the one thing you always knew about Utah, when you were competing, was that particularly in football and basketball, it's just the crowd and how they're on top of you and so involved. And after my first football game, that was reinforced. Here it is, Thursday night at 6 o'clock, challenging for people to get here, get off work, get their kids here, and boy, everyone was there. And so, you know, that was something I was really looking forward to. And it even exceeded my expectations. And then from just a standpoint of competition, you know, again, didn't matter what sport you're competing against Utah in, you know you're in for a fight. And I've seen that already from our fall competitors. I mean, you know, every game we either been in or fought or won. So, you know, that part has been also very, very gratifying to watch how hard our kids compete.

DF: You have your own podcast. How's that worked out? This is kind of new for a lot of us guys in this generation.

MH: Yeah, no, I really enjoy it. You know, I think there's a bunch of different ways to get your message out about what I'm thinking about, what we're up to in the department, and I think it's a great platform to do that. Selfishly, you know, I really get excited about it because I have that part where I interview one of our student athletes. I did that in South Florida, and you know, certainly will do that here. Mr. Covey was my first guest, so, so great, and got a chance to really dig in with some things that he's been going through and how excited he is to be back. So we'll continue to do it. But I think it's just a fun thing to do for us to make sure that we talk to our fans and communicate what's going on.

DF: How'd you end up being an athletic director? Where did you take that path, the led you to where you're at now?

MH: Well, it was a path that started when I was a student at the University of Arizona. I was a student manager, was the way that we were able to afford to go out of state to get education and I think my junior year I started kind of creeping around that quote-unquote second floor and sort of meeting the administrators up there at the time. Cedric Dempsey, who went on to be the NCAA president, and then initially Jim Livengood, who I got my first job with. So I just kind of started as a student, got involved, asked questions. And then when I graduated, got my master's in sports administration, and it just kind of blossomed from there. I was able to work my way up and work at some incredible institutions. But never in my dreams did I have any inclination I would come to Utah and be in charge of an incredible school in the greatest conference in America. So I'm thrilled as you can possibly be.

DF: Any culture shock moving from Florida to Utah?

MH: Well, I mean, my kids have never seen snow. I haven't skied in 10 years, although I used to ski a lot. And I did notice there's these things called mountains here, which we didn't have a Florida. No, it's been great. And the people have been just terrific. I've got an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader and my wife and I were just talking the other night about ... you can just tell what a great place this is to raise a family. So you take all the greatness of the university and you combine it with just this incredible area that we live in the Salt Lake region. And we're just thrilled.

DF: Was it hard to leave Florida? I know that having a great opportunity here, obviously, but you come across to me as a guy that's loyal so was it hard to say goodbye?

MH: It was really hard. That's a great question. Great people there, you know, really got to know our student-athletes and our coaches. Some incredible, incredible people there. And, you know, the president there was terrific to me, the board of trustees. We did a lot of great, great work there, real proud of it, you know, football got turned around and you know that kind of lifted the program. Nine teams in the top 25, graduation rates that were soaring, and it was a collective group, it wasn't me, it was a collective group of people that worked really, really hard. So yeah, it was very difficult, and obviously there's the personal side of it too — you make great friends, the kids make great friends. So to answer your question, yes. But that being said, you know, when you have an opportunity like Utah to come in after Chris Hill led this place in just incredible manner for 30-plus years and you get to come into such a place it's already elevated and to be able to try to do the things that we need to do to take it to the next step. That opportunity was just way too good to pass up.

DF: Mark, thanks for joining us, appreciate it.

MH: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

DF: Appreciate Mark Harlan joining us for that segment. And each week we have that. Amy, understand you got somebody ...

AD: Exciting for next week. I'm very excited. I think we might have to expand the segment from five minutes to 10 minutes, but uh, we're gonna catch up with Steve Tate.

DF: Sweet. Good guy, a political activist.

AD: Busy guy, yeah. He's doing it all.

DF: Appreciate it. Well guys, let's size up the PAC-12 South now that things are sort of kicking off conference-wise. Utah obviously they've got that BYU game at the end of the year but their next nine games are all conference games. How do you size up the South at this point, Trent?

TW: It's totally up for grabs. Anybody who thinks they know what team is going to win is lying. There's no way you have any idea what team is going to win it.

DF: Amy, what do you think? There are a lot of surprising scores.

AD: And that's why I think it's actually the perfect year for Utah to put something special together because I do think that the Pac-12 might be down a teeny bit and it's anybody's to win.

DF: You know the interesting thing was at the start of the year, in the preseason media poll, obviously Arizona State and Colorado were picked to finish at the bottom. Utah plays both those teams on the road. Does that change the dynamics of this if they end up being the tougher teams that Utah's gonna have to maybe go to Boulder or Tempe and get the victory?

TW: I think both of those teams are the type of teams that Utah can beat. They play the type of game that Utah's comfortable playing.

AD: And I don't think, I don't know that being at home has been an advantage and being on the road has been a disadvantage to Utah as much as we always make it out to be. Some of the marquee wins have been on the road.

DF: They have, but I think going into the season, a lot of people looked at their schedule and said OK, easy game even though it's on the road, easy game though it's on the road. Those games don't look so easy right now.

TW: That's true but then they'll have easier games than people thought, like against Arizona. I was maybe gonna say USC but no.

DF: Take that BYU.

AD: I was going to say I think USC's going to get better and better.

DF: You know they should. But then again, if you look at the schedule, that game's in Salt Lake. So it's going to be some interesting dynamics coming up. Well guys let's jump into our weekly Pac-12 pick-ems in the South. Look at the games and just get your opinions. How about New Hampshire at Colorado?

AD: Colorado.

TW: Colorado.

AD: We're done, move on.

DF: Done with that one. I got another one. Let's take our beloved Southern Utah T-birds in Arizona.

AD: I think this one's harder.

TW: This one is harder.

AD: Don't you think?

DF: I don't.

AD: You don't?

DF: No I think Arizona's — if they have anything they need to show it now.

AD: Well but, obviously I would agree with that, but I think SUU — I was surprised they got beat as badly as they did against Oregon State.

DF: I think that's one thing I'm taking into consideration is they got thumped by the Beavers and I can't see it being any better going to Tucson.

TW: And they got upset by a lower division team their opening game of the season too. So Arizona is gonna win but I'm not confident.

AD: But Arizona's winless right now.

DF: Gonna go with the T-birds, Amy?

AD: It's a tough one but I have faith in Demario (Warren) so I'm going to go with the T-birds. I'm riding that Arizona sucks rocket into the ground.

DF: Here we go guys. We got the big one USC at Texas. Probably not as big as the TV networks had hoped it would be at this point, but it's still USC in Texas.


TW: I'm gonna go Texas. College Football is strange.

AD: It's not that strange.

DF: I'm gonna go with USC because I feel like they're too good to lose two games in a row. That simple. But Texas is a surprisingly mediocre ballclub and you'd expect with the money they've spent and the recruiting they can do they'd be better than they are but ... all right let's go to Arizona State at San Diego State. I think ASU's reign of terror is over. I think the Aztecs beat them.

AD: I'm going Arizona State.

TW: Yeah I got to pick ASU.

AD: Easily. They will easily beat San Diego.

DF: We'll see. Fresno State at UCLA. Get your tickets for that one.

AD: UCLA. Next.

TW: Yeah, UCLA.

DF: I'm taking Fresno.

AD: Now you're just being a contrarian. We're betting lunch on this — I bet you one burrito.

DF: Let's bet two.

AD: Double or nothing.

DF: All right. I think we're down to the big one now Washington at Utah. I like the Utes to win a close game here. I think that this is a game they've circled for a long time and the fact that last year in Seattle they had it won, they lost the lead in the last two minutes ... frustration. You know the last time Chase Hansen played against Washington, he didn't play in the game last year. You know, Utah did well his freshman year up in Seattle, and he seems to rise to the occasion when they play Washington when he's on the field and he seems to be healthy and on top of his game, so I'm going with the Utes.

TW: I pick Washington. I think it's gonna be super close and competitive. I think Washington wins it on a late field goal. I think it's low scoring. I just think that the Huskies are the better team.

AD: I'm going to go with Utah as well and I think that's probably a homer pick because maybe we get to cover a better bowl game. No, but I do think Utah is a better team. But I definitely think Utah will be better after the loss. I think there's a lot of pride in that program and I think you're going to see that offensive line be better than they've been this year. Those are some good players on the offensive line and I think you have some real good leadership there and I think you're going to see a much improved offensive line and a much-improved ground game and if you don't, then Trent will be right.

DF: Do you guys think the Utes have been a little vanilla in these first two games, looking ahead to this game? Because this game has national implications, it'd put Utah in the rankings, obviously, if they win, put them in a good driver's seat to win the South. It's probably a game that not a lot of people chalked up as a victory going into the season but if they get it, it's huge.

AD: When you say vanilla do you mean safe, or boring?

DF: Yeah they just played things down so that we're debating about whether they'll rise to the occasion or not, I mean, do you think this ...

TW: Are you talking like play-calling or just their attitudes to the game?

DF: Everything. Have they just been gearing everything up to this Washington game and we just haven't seen it?

AD: Think they're playing possum? No, I don't.

TW: I don't believe that at all.

AD: No, I don't. I think they've been vanilla in that they've been boring about some of the things they've done. Especially I think you can look at whole quarters where the play-calling has been to not lose the game rather than to try to win the game and I think they're best when they're fearless and creative and aggressive. So that's their game.

DF: I kind of expect them to just to think — not Superman coming out of the Clark Kent outfit, but I really think they're gonna open things up and I think we're gonna see some things that we haven't seen yet. And I think this will be a real slugfest because I think Chris Peterson will do the same thing on the other side you know. I don't know how much Utah learned about Washington — the Auburn game was interesting but playing North Dakota last week, the Huskies, I don't think they really showed anything that they're going to unveil maybe in Salt Lake. I think you're gonna have two teams that are, like you said, prideful and they're going to come out for a slugfest.

AD: Well I think if you take anything from them beating up on North Dakota, you take that they beat an opponent they should, by a lot bigger margin than Utah beat Weber State.

TW: And I think it's kind of a myth that teams hold back against lower opponents. You want to win and you want to win convincingly and prove that you can do what you know you do. Holding stuff back, that just makes it seem like you're not confident in what you actually are able to do in beating teams.

DF: I think what I was trying to get at is, I mean, do you think, training camp and everything? Were they looking forward to getting on the field against Weber State, or are they looking ahead to this Washington game? That's I was kind of getting at — is all this momentum.

AD: I think they're looking forward to getting on the field against BYU. That's my ... I don't know. I mean, we're not in the locker room. So we don't know. But I think that they may have, you know, looked ahead a teeny bit but I think the bigger issue is they've had some letdowns, like you said, they have this tradition of sort of playing to their opponent and they may have underestimated people here in there. And they won't do that this weekend. So we'll see what they're really capable of.

TW: If you believe Britain Covey, they're more excited for this game. He said they were more excited for their Pac-12 opener than the other two games.

DF: Well, that's the only thing that matters. Anything else guys, as we wrap this up?

AD: I don't know. What's the dollar store special? That's what we're going to end with from now on.

DF: I think we're going to find those gummies that have like Dr. Pepper and root beer in them.

AD: I'm going with Necco wafers. Necco wafers for me. Chalk, colored chalk.

DF: Anything else you can think of, Trent, going into this?

TW: Nope.

AD: I think this'll be a fun one. I think it's gonna be fun for the fans, as a blackout game, and I think it will be the most interesting game for us to watch and see what this team's identity is going to be.

DF: Will you guys be sporting black?

TW: I don't think we're allowed to.

AD: I have a tradition of wearing gray or purple.

DF: What about white? After Labor Day.

TW: You know, I don't know if that rule's that important.

AD: Dirk, the bigger question is, are you going to wear your blue shirt or your brown shirt? Because those are the only two shirts you wear ... you have a green shirt on today?

DF: Maybe a combination.

AD: All right everybody, you heard it here first.

DF: Appreciate you listening. Again, as usual, be sure to catch us next time on our podcast.

AD: Subscribe, review us, tell your friends about us, share the podcast. We're available on iTunes, Google Play and anywhere you get interesting podcasts. If you don't know what a podcast is, ask your children or your teenage neighbors and they will unlock a world of storytelling for you.

DF: You know, it's one thing I want to remind you folks is of that old adage, you know, you can pick your family, right? You can't pick your family. I said it wrong.

AD: I was like, what are you trying to tell me?

DF: You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. You can pick your podcast. So pick the latter in our direction

AD: Wisdom from a really gross man.

DF: Talk to you next time.