Can the Utes borrow a page from the 2019 season?
That year, the Utes dropped a game at USC in mid-September and it appeared their hopes for a division title could be dashed. Instead, Utah reeled off eight consecutive victories
CARSON, Calif. — During fall camp, there were plenty of comparisons between this Utah team and the 2019 version that won the Pac-12 South championship and climbed to No. 5 in the national rankings.
Utes on the air
at San Diego State (2-0)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
Dignity Health Sports Park
Radio: ESPN 700
That season, the Utes dropped a game at USC in mid-September and it appeared that their hopes for a division title could be dashed.
Instead, Utah reeled off eight consecutive victories.
Last Saturday, the Utes fell to rival BYU, marking their first loss to the Cougars since 2009.
But it’s still early in the season. Utah has proven it can bounce back in a big way after a September loss.
That’s what the Utes will try to do starting Saturday (5 p.m. MDT, CBSSN) when they meet San Diego State at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd remembers that 2019 loss at USC and how it impacted the rest of that season.
“We lost to USC and we went on to win (eight) straight up until the Pac-12 championship. It’s not like it can’t be done,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s more motivation but we still have to take it one day at a time. That’s our thing right now. We’ve got to make sure everyone is giving everything they’ve got.”
Quarterback Charlie Brewer said his team needs to look ahead, not back.
“Our goals are still right in front of us. We can still achieve what we want to achieve. Now we correct everything that we did wrong and just move on.”
After last weekend’s setback, Utah has learned some lessons.
“My biggest takeaway is that it’s similar to the 2019 loss at USC. It opens our eyes to a couple of things that we can do better, and I think we need to do better, if we’re going to be a great team,” said wide receiver Britain Covey. “We’ll see how we implement that in practice. Honestly, credit to BYU. They were very well-prepared and they played an amazing game. It opened our eyes to what we need to do better.”
Next week, Utah kicks off Pac-12 play with a home game against Washington State. The Utes have several issues to fix before then.
For example, Utah failed to record a single takeaway or a sack against BYU. Offensively, the Utes failed to sustain scoring drives and had two turnovers.
“I don’t even call (Saturday’s game) a tune-up game. Every one of them is a war to us and we go into it with the same mentality,” said linebackers coach Colton Swan. “Every day, we’re striving to get better. Every game, we’re striving to get better.”
Swan wants to see the defense reestablish its identity this week with physicality.
“We’ve got to be physical at the point of contact and stop the run. We’ve got to own the trenches and the line of scrimmage. That’s the identity of what we need to establish every game,” Swan said. “They’re mature and they’re driven. What last week did, they saw what it did to their mentality. They’re driven guys. They bounce back quickly. They want to strive for success. They’re winners. That’s the mentality to have.”
Brewer said there’s a lot of room for improvement for the offense and the mistakes will be addressed.
“You have to see what went wrong and see how we can improve as a team and individually and get ready for the next one. We didn’t play great at all. Offensively, we played really sloppy. We’re going to have to play a lot better this week. I think the guys are motivated. We all kind of felt embarrassed. I think we’ll have a really good week of practice.”
Running back Micah Bernard enjoyed a breakout performance against BYU, rushing for 147 yards and a touchdown. The Utes are hoping for more of that this season.
“He had a great game with a lot of big runs,” Brewer said. “I expect that he’ll do that the rest of the year.”
Coach Kyle Whittingham said this week his team has been “getting better at everything we do. We had too many mental mistakes in the game last week. We weren’t physical enough on defense.”
Covey’s message for his teammates has been to put last week’s loss behind them and take care of business every week from here on out.
“Anyone that says you won’t lose in life is just lying. You’re going to lose. It’s not if, it’s when. It’s so cliche, but it’s all about how you respond, especially a loss early in the season. A loss in midseason isn’t as disappointing as a loss early in the season. You go into the season not thinking that you’re going to lose a single game,” Covey said. “Such high expectations. You lose one early to your rival and it’s just devastating.
“Then you realize that it doesn’t affect a single thing in our conference play. Our goal is still to win a Pac-12 championship and go to the Rose Bowl, things like that,” he continued. “And that’s where leadership comes in. It’s very similar to 2019. You saw what that team did. It’s so easy as a fan to overreact.
“You’ve got to simplify things and say, ‘Where can we improve?’ You watch the film and there were certain things where it was so obvious that, look, that’s why it didn’t work. I think that 2019 team had a great group of leaders. … You have to trust people. It’s all about taking ownership of your job and trusting the guys in their jobs. It’s hard. It’s like delegating. But the best leaders do that.”