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Utah Utes’ ‘No. 1 objective’ on offense is taking care of the football

Utah has turned the ball over just twice this season.

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) sprints to the end zone during first-half action in the Utah-Northern Illinois football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) sprints to the end zone during first-half action in the Utah-Northern Illinois football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An added emphasis on ball security is paying off for the 19th-ranked Utah Utes. They’ve turned the ball over just twice this season (both on fumbles) and are one of just 14 teams that has yet to throw an interception.

As Saturday’s home game with Washington State approaches, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged its a topic that is constantly being preached within the program — especially under offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

“That’s Andy’s No. 1 objective, is take care of the football,” Whittingham said. “The players have bought into that.”

Whittingham credits quarterback Tyler Huntley for making great decisions and for being as prepared as any player the Utes have had. Through four games, the senior has completed 64 of 84 passes for 812 yards and five touchdowns. His completion percentage of .762 ranks second in the Pac-12.

“He has completely bought in to coach Ludwig’s coaching and doing the things that Andy wants him to do as far as his read progression, taking care of the football and putting it in good spots,” Whittingham said. “His completion percentage right now is off the charts, it is in the top four or five in the nation. He is just playing his best football as a Ute and he is our guy. He is our leader.”

Huntley, thus, is rallying the troops after last week’s 30-23 loss at USC. He said they need to do more now.

Ball security remains a constant.

“In past times we haven’t been fully taking ownership in our jobs and now we’re doing better,” Huntley said. “But we’ve got way more to improve.”

In 2018, the Utes lost 14 fumbles and threw 12 interceptions over 14 games. The opposition had 15 passes picked and lost just six fumbles. This year’s turnover margin has improved to a plus-5.

“From day 1 when coach Ludwig got here, ball security became issue No. 1. He kept saying the ball is everything and we do ball security drills and fundamentals every single practice,” said tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham. “It’s coached by every single offensive coach for every single offensive player and those habits start to show up.

“Keeping the ball high and tight, wrist above your elbow, locking it down, two hands on contact, and you see that showing up in practice and then carrying over to the games,” he continued. “And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the turnovers have gone down from last year.”

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Washington State (3-1, 0-1) at No. 19 Utah (3-1, 0-1)

Rice-Eccles Stadium

Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV: FS1

Radio: ESPN 700AM