It took five games, but Utah’s offense finally showed what can accomplish in a 42-26 win at USC last Saturday.
The performance included a balanced attack, nearly 500 yards of total offense, a lot of points and zero turnovers.
“You’re not going to lose many games doing that,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.
Since the season kicked off, the Utes have changed their starting quarterback, from Charlie Brewer to Cam Rising. Every week a different running back, it seems, steps up. And they’ve been looking for receivers to produce consistently.
But in Los Angeles, everything came together.
“It was a breakout game for our offense, and that was really the difference in the game — the way our offense played,” Whittingham said. “That’s what we’re capable of and it was good to see us play up to our potential.”
It didn’t happen immediately, but from late in the second quarter until midway through the third quarter, Utah’s offense looked downright prolific, scoring 28 unanswered points.
The Utes amassed a season-high 486 yards of offense and they were balanced yards — 306 through the air and 180 on the ground.
Now, Utah is hoping to build off that momentum Saturday (8 p.m., MDT, ESPN) when it hosts No. 18 Arizona State.
Nine different receivers caught passes from Rising at USC — Britain Covey (five for 67 yards), Devaughn Vele (four for 84 yards and a 37-yard touchdown), Dalton Kincaid (three for 40 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown), Brant Kuithe (three for 29 yards, who also ran for a TD), Micah Bernard (three for 12 yards), Theo Howard (one for 42 yards), Money Parks (1 for 12 yards and his first career touchdown), T.J. Pledger (one for 10 yards) and Cole Fotheringham (one for 10 yards).
“It’s always fun when you’re able to spread the ball around and make sure everyone is included and getting touches and making sure we’re having fun out there, just playing football and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Rising said.
For Whittingham, it was gratifying to watch the offense play at an optimal level.
“It’s very rewarding because it’s tough to put drives together of 12-, 13-, 14-play drives five yards at a time. You need some chunk plays. Typically, your chunk plays come through the air. That was great to see,” he said. “Our tight ends are so talented. We have three tight ends that really create mismatches. ... It was very rewarding and very needed.
“We need to do that going forward. We’ve got to be able to throw the ball with a certain amount of proficiency. (Saturday) was exactly what we need to have happen.”
Running back Tavion Thomas, who has struggled protecting the ball at times this season, rushed 16 times for 116 yards and a 43-yard touchdown at USC.
“Tavion’s a talent. We all know that. He’s had a little bit of a struggle with ball security earlier in the season. He’s worked hard on it throughout the bye week and this past practice week extensively,” Whittingham said. “We put him in there and his ball security was great. He didn’t seem to be loose with the football so we kept feeding it to him. He ended up with over 100 yards. Hopefully he’s got some traction now and he can pick up where he left off next week.”
Added Whittingham on Thomas: “His performance was outstanding. It’s the second time he’s gone over 100 yards this year … Ball security was outstanding and that’s what we were looking for. The primary thing that Tavion needed to work on, and at least for that game, he seemed to get that corrected. If that continues, he’ll continue to get the ball. And we can continue to get that production out of him, it’s a big help to our offense.”
How did the Thomas, and the offense, take such a big leap forward?
“The difference is we came together. We’re playing for each other,” Thomas said. “We’re all learning how to play with each other. We all know our assignments and we’re all doing our jobs.”
And, as important as anything else, Utah’s offensive line has shown significant improvement since the season began.
“It all starts upfront. The offensive line had their best game of the season. It was great to see,” Whittingham said. “That’s who we know they can be. That needs to continue if we’re going to have a chance to compete for a South title.”
In Utah’s 24-13 victory over Washington State before the bye week, the Utes fumbled the ball seven times, losing three. It was a major concern.
But against the Trojans, Utah didn’t turn the ball over.
“It’s always a great feeling. That’s a big part of why we won,” Rising said. “It was terrible with all those fumbles. To accomplish that is always a great thing. It’s one of our goals as an offense every week. We’re happy about that, for sure.”