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What does Kyle Whittingham think about this true freshman safety? ‘He’s going to be special’

Cole Bishop recorded four tackles, a sack, two tackles-for-loss and a pass breakup against Stanford

Stanford running back Austin Jones is stopped by Utah defenders Cole Bishop and Junior Tafuna (58) during game at Stanford.
Stanford running back Austin Jones (20) is stopped for a loss by Utah defenders Cole Bishop and Junior Tafuna (58) during game Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Stanford, Calif. Bishop had a big game against the Cardinal, not that it surprised head coach Kyle Whittingham.
D. Ross Cameron, Associated Press

A few days after Utah’s 52-7 rout of Stanford, coach Kyle Whittingham remained impressed by his team’s dominant performance.

“Didn’t see that coming, for sure, to play that way in the first half,” he said Monday morning. “That was maybe our best half of football in a long time.”

Utah jumped out to a 38-0 lead at halftime. At that point, the Utes had more points than the Cardinal had yards (28).

Saturday (noon MST, Pac-12 Network) Utah visits Arizona, which snapped a 20-game losing streak over the weekend with a 10-3 win over a depleted Cal team.

“That was our entire focus last week — trying to get a win on the road,” Whittingham said. “It’s the same this week. There will be no difference in the way we prepare and the way we approach things. We’re not looking past anybody.”

While the offense received much of the attention Friday after producing 441 rushing yards, fourth-best in program history, and 581 yards of total offense, the defense shut down Stanford offense, which was playing without starting quarterback Tanner McKee, who is injured.

The Utes held the Cardinal to 82 yards rushing and 167 yards of total offense.

Because of depth issues at cornerback, Utah employed a three-safety scheme against Stanford.

Freshman Cole Bishop acquitted himself well, recording four tackles, a sack, two tackles-for-loss and a pass breakup.

“He’s an outstanding player. He’s just a true freshman and he’s going to be special,” Whittingham said. “He’s been limited this season by injury. So we haven’t been able to play him nearly as much we would have liked. We’re paper-thin at corner right now.

“That was a way to ease the lack of depth at corner by playing a three-safety scheme. … He came in and did exactly what we thought he was going to do. He’s big enough — he may end up being a linebacker down the road. That’s certainly a possibility. In fact, a lot of his job description Friday night was that of a linebacker. As a third safety, he came down in the box and did a lot of what our stud linebacker does.”

Utah has made dramatic improvement since giving up 260 rushing yards and 468 yards of total offense against Oregon State.

Whittingham attributed the change to his young defensive players learning and growing though experience, especially the defensive line.

“A lot of our problems early in the year, particularly in the run game, we were losing gaps with the down guys because those were guys that just hadn’t been there before,” he said. “Those guys are starting to get the idea and get things figured out. The secondary is making plays.

“Although they had five games last year to get their feet wet, it’s been a work in progress. I think coach (Morgan) Scalley and the rest of the defensive staff have done a really good job of bringing those guys along from week to week.”