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Utes find ‘closure’ — now return to task of preparing for No. 18 Arizona State

Because the Utes spent Monday attending the memorial service of Aaron Lowe and traveling, the coaching staff changed up the schedule for this week

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stands next to a referee during game against Southern California Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stands next to a referee during game against Southern California Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. Whittingham and the Utes will play host to No. 18 Arizona State Saturday night.
Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

After an emotional Monday that saw Utah’s team travel via charter flight to Dallas to attend memorial services for Aaron Lowe, the Utes returned to practice Tuesday.

Coach Kyle Whittingham was happy with the decision to take the team and participate in the memorial for Lowe, who was shot and killed on Sept. 26.

“It was a great service. Thanks go out to our administration for making it possible,” Whittingham said. “We essentially took the entire team and all the staff to Dallas for the service. It was good to be able to be there and support that. It was good to have our whole team there.”

The Utes, who have been mourning the loss of Lowe for two weeks, were able to get some closure by attending the funeral, Whittingham said.

“That was another positive thing about it, the closure aspect about it. Being able to have a service, it accomplished that.”

Whittingham, cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah, quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson, cornerback Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson and athletic director Mark Harlan were among those that spoke at the services.

“It was very emotional. They all did a great job. Coach Shah was exceptional, as were our players,” Whittingham said. “It was good to see them get up and express themselves. It’s not an easy thing. It’s tough emotionally and they all handled it well.”

Next up for Utah is a showdown with No. 18 Arizona State Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN).

Because the Utes spent Monday attending the memorial service and traveling, the coaching staff changed up the schedule for this week. The players came in late Sunday afternoon for some work. Sundays are usually a day off but yesterday became the off-day this week.

“It was a matter of flip-flopping Monday’s routine to Sunday and Sunday to Monday,” Whittingham said. “Hopefully, we’re back on track now. We backed up practice about an hour (Tuesday) and meetings so we can catch up a little bit in that respect.”

While Whittingham was thrilled about the way the offense played in Saturday’s 42-26 rout of USC, he said he’d like to see improvement by the defense.

The Utes surrendered 493 yards of total offense to the Trojans. Quarterback Kedon Slovis threw for 401 yards and wide receiver Drake London caught 16 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.

Freshman cornerback Clark Phillips’ main assignment was defending London.

“We gave up too many yards,” Whittingham said. “Clark’s still a true freshman and Drake London is maybe the best receiver in the country, so it was a big challenge. Clark drew that coverage most of the night with no help. We didn’t do anything special other than say, ‘Clark, match up with him.’ Drake still had a heckuva game. But we did enough other good things to counteract that.”

London had 11 receptions in the first half but Phillips limited him to five in the second half.

“That was a great litmus test (for Phillips) as far as where he is as a corner right now,” Whittingham said. “The kid (London) still caught 16 balls. But Clark did do a good job. We’re pleased with what Clark did in that game. We still think his best days are ahead of him.”

Added Whittingham, “We probably could have gotten more pressure on their quarterback,“ Whittingham said. “You drop back and throw it as many times as they did, we’ve got to be a little more disruptive in our pass rush.”

On special teams, Jordan Noyce replaced Jadon Redding on placekicking duties last Saturday. The Utes didn’t attempt any field goals against the Trojans.

“Special teams was solid,” Whittingham said. “(Noyce) won the job over the break. He’ll be our kicker moving forward for now.”

Whittingham was also pleased with the number of players that earned honors after the USC win.

Quarterback Cam Rising was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and was recognized by the weekly Davey O’Brien “Great 8”; freshman safety Kamo’i Latu was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week; and junior linebacker Devin Lloyd was named Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week.

Lloyd recorded eight tackles, including a three-yard tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup against USC. The Preseason All-American is No. 2 in the Pac-12 for total tackles (53), while his per-game average (10.6) tops the league and ranks No. 5 in FBS football. His nine tackles for loss on the season ranks best in the conference as well.

Making his first career start at safety, Latu had a career- and team-best 10 tackles, along with a pass breakup. Seven of Latu’s tackles came in the first half.

“We had good recognition, Pac-12-wise, and nationally, for our guys,” Whittingham said.