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With Britain Covey out, Utah’s receivers step up in win (+Covey, Moss, Olaseni updates)

Utah Utes wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) celebrates Utah’s 38-13 win over the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Utah Utes wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) celebrates Utah’s 38-13 win over the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For all of the talk of Washington State’s prolific passing offense heading into Saturday night, it was Utah who looked the part. At the end of the third quarter, Utah’s passing output had more than double the number of yards of its run game.

Star receiver Britain Covey, who had played in Utah’s prior four games, was out on Saturday night. Heading into Saturday’s showdown, Covey had been targeted the most out of any Ute receiver, 10 times, though he was tied for fourth in receiving yards, with 77 on the season. Covey led the Utes in receiving yards in 2015 and 2018.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham called Covey’s future “bright,” but was unsure as to whether or not the junior would resume play this year.

“He went through the first four weeks. As you all could probably tell, he wasn’t himself. He’s just not who he is, he doesn’t have that lightning quickness and speed that make him the weapon that he was prior,” Whittingham said. “He wasn’t feeling real great this week at all and he just wasn’t going to be ready to play physically. We had a conversation, we’re going to take this thing week by week. We’ll see where he is in a few weeks, we’ll see where we are.”

Whittingham did not rule out the possibility of Covey redshirting. Under new NCAA rules, a player can play in up to four games and still be able to redshirt.

“Redshirting is not out of the question, but it’s certainly not a definitive decision right now. We’ve got to do what’s best for him and what’s best for the team. We’ll see how his health comes around and along and where we’re at and where we’re positioned in the next few weeks,” he said. “At some point, there will be a point of no return, probably another two or three games beyond now, we’ll make a final decision.”

Samson Nacua, who started in place of Covey, came into the night with just two total receiving yards to his name. He caught one pass against BYU and had zero receptions against Northern Illinois, Idaho State or USC. Nacua finished the night as Utah’s second leading receiver in the WSU game, being targeted five times — the most of any Ute receiver — and finished with 90 receiving yards. He hauled in a 52-yard pass from Huntley, who had his best game of the season against Washington State, for his first touchdown of the year, putting Utah up 14-7.

“Samson is a very good football player. I was on him all week, telling him this is his time. He’s got a ton of ability, he’s 6’3”-plus and 200 pounds, runs well and has a really good feel for getting open in space. He contributed,” Whittingham said. “Proud of Samson and what he did tonight.”

After Bryan Thompson had a breakout game against Idaho State, he was again Utah’s best receiver, averaging 27.8 yards per reception and totaling 111 receiving yards. In the first quarter, Huntley found him for a 54-yard reception, Utah’s longest pass on the night.

“Bryan Thompson is starting to emerge as a real threat,” Whittingham said.

Solomon Enis emerged during the third quarter with a 41-yard reception. He finished with 62 receiving yards.

UPDATES: Running back Zack Moss did not play, but he could be back as soon as the Oct. 12 game at Oregon State.

“We’re fairly confident that we’ll have him for the next game. That will make us that much more potent running the football,” Whittingham said.

Offensive lineman Bam Olaseni dressed but did not play. Whittingham said that Olaseni can play up to four games this year and will be in the offensive line rotation.

“We got the information back from the NCAA. He’s going to have one less year than we thought. He’s going to have two years to play one, essentially. No mandatory sit out, there could have been a mandatory sit out, so we’re very pleased that the NCAA didn’t instill that. Bottom line, he can play four games this year, not have it count, and then full season next year,” Whittingham said.

EXTRA POINTS: Utah honored its newest Crimson Club Hall of Fame inductees at halftime. Utah inducted three teams into the Hall of Fame — the 1981 and 1982 gymnastics teams and the 2004 football team — and three athletes — gymnast Kristina Baskett, skier Torin Koos and track and field athlete Jeff Simonich. … Former Utah basketball player and current San Antonio Spur Jakob Poeltl attended the game.