Utes say they can handle a shootout with the Bruins, if that’s what it takes
The Bruins average 33 points per game and rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in rushing. The Utes, meanwhile, have scored an average of 37 points in their last three games
More than midway through the season, it appears that Utah’s style of play may be changing.
In last Saturday’s 42-34 loss at Oregon State, the Utes gave up 468 yards of offense, including 284 yards on the ground. Utah’s defense failed to make stops and despite a strong showing overall from the offense, it wasn’t enough against the Beavers.
Utes on the air
UCLA (5-3, 3-2)
at Utah (4-3, 3-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700
Will it be another high-scoring contest when the Utes host UCLA Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN)?
The Bruins average 33 points per game and rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in rushing. Are the Utes, who have scored an average of 37 points in their last three games, built to win a shootout?
“I think our defense is going to be fine in the long run — I’m talking beyond this year. When you have seven, eight, nine, 10 freshmen that are playing considerable (time), you’re going to take some lumps,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “There’s no way around that. You can’t not have that happen. Is our offense ready to win a game 51-48? We’re getting closer but hopefully it doesn’t come to that. We’re certainly not where we need to be on defense right now.”
Utah’s offensive players, meanwhile, say they’re up to the challenge if they need to score points in bunches.
“We have to play good football for 60 minutes and make sure we’re executing at high levels,” said quarterback Cam Rising. “Just play our brand of football.”
Wide receiver Theo Howard said the offense is hitting its stride right now.
“We’re just really coming along in every aspect. We struggled early in the season. We definitely got the run game down now. We’re definitely getting the pass game down,” Howard said. “Specifically, deep plays down the field. You’re starting to see guys like Devaughn Vele take advantage of opportunities that are given to us. Cam is just giving us opportunities. We’re really coming along.”
“There’s so much room to improve on. We’re molding into what we can be. I don’t think we’re even there yet,” said tight end Brant Kuithe. “We can get a lot better in a lot of aspects in the run game and the pass game. It’s just the beginning.”
Meanwhile, star linebacker Devin Lloyd will be sidelined for the first half of Saturday’s game because he was ejected for targeting in the second half against Oregon State.
Whittingham said during practices this week, Lloyd’s first-half replacement will be prepared to play.
“We’ll have to have a guy ready for the first half that will take (Lloyd’s) reps. We’ll have to split those up 50-50 with what Devin gets and what the replacement gets,” he said. “It will be a juggling act. Devin is a very experienced and accomplished guy so he doesn’t need a ton of reps. We’ll probably give the guy that’s going to start in place of him more reps.”
In other program news this week, offensive lineman Jaren Kump is out for the season due to an injury, Whittingham said. And other offensive lineman, Simi Moala, has reportedly entered the transfer portal.
Utah’s special teams had two punts blocked last week, although one of them was negated due to an OSU penalty. But Whittingham acknowledged that it’s an issue that needs to be fixed. The Utes lost long snapper Keegan Markgraf to a season-ending injury against Arizona State.
“People will be testing us. Particularly in the last game, where we have a new snapper,” he said. “The snapper’s out for the season so they’re going to test you out. But it wasn’t a snapping issue … (Blocked punts are) a concern. We’ve got to shore that up this week.”
All that aside, the Utes are looking forward to returning to Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“We’re back at home, which is a positive,” Whittingham said. “It should be a great crowd and a great environment.”
During the first and second quarters Saturday, the school will honor the legacy of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe by retiring the No. 22, which both Jordan and Lowe wore for the Utes before they died.
It will be the first retired number in the history of Utah football.
“I think it’s awesome,” Whittingham said. “It’s something that to me seemed obvious that needed to be done. I’m thankful to our administration for agreeing. You’re going to see a nice ceremony in the game on Saturday. … I’m looking forward to honoring both of those young men.”
Both the Jordan and Lowe families will be in attendance at the game, Whittingham said.