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Will Utah open Pac-12 play with a new starting quarterback?

Utah next hosts Washington State. The Cougars (1-2) are currently dealing with their own issues, having lost 45-14 to USC at home last Saturday

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) runs the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against San Diego State Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Carson, Calif.
Ashley Landis, AP

As Utah prepares to enter Pac-12 play this weekend, it does so with a losing overall record and with, quite possibly, a new starting quarterback.

The Utes lost to San Diego State 33-31 in triple overtime last Saturday in Carson, California, in a game that saw sophomore Cam Rising come off the bench and lead an impressive fourth-quarter rally.

But at this point, there may be just as many questions about this team than there were three weeks ago. Once again, for example, Utah’s offensive line struggled.

“If there’s a bright spot, it’s we’re 0-0 in Pac-12 play. We start this week. But if we don’t get better at a lot of things, we’re going to continue to get the same results,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “So we’ve got to fix our issues. That’s on us as coaches. It starts with me. We’ve got to find a way to get us playing at maximum efficiency and maximum potential. That’s my job as the coach. So far, in three games, we haven’t got it done. We have our work cut out for us coaches this week.”

Utah hosts Washington State Saturday (12:30 p.m., MDT, Pac-12 Network). The Cougars (1-2) are currently dealing with their own issues, having lost 45-14 to USC at home last Saturday.

Rising replaced starter Charlie Brewer late in the third quarter and completed 19 of 32 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed five times for 46 yards.

Brewer finished 14 of 26 for 104 yards with one interception. The Utes (1-2) failed to score an offensive touchdown while Brewer was in the game.

Whittingham said the quarterback situation would be evaluated Sunday.

“We’ll most likely have a starter on Monday. I don’t want to go a whole week debating on who’s going to be the starter,” he said. “We’ll evaluate the film and take a good hard look at both performances and make a decision on who we’re going to go with. At this point in time, that’s how I’m thinking it’s going to unfold.”

The coach also said, “We may or may not announce who the starter is publicly but we need to know that early in the week.”

It was clear that Rising jumpstarted the moribund Ute offense when he entered the game. Utah trailed 24-10 at the time.

“We needed a spark. We were looking for something. We’ve got an excellent quarterback in Cam Rising, who’s the No. 2 guy. Why not give him a shot?” Whittingham said. “He’s worked hard in practice, as hard as anybody else. He’s prepared himself the right way. I had no doubt in my mind that he was ready to play because that’s the type of kid that he is. I thought, given the circumstances, he deserved that opportunity.”

Linebacker Devin Lloyd, who recorded a game-high 13 tackles and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter that helped fuel the comeback, liked the jolt that Rising gave his team.

“There were definitely positives, especially in the fourth quarter with Cam coming in. The team that we were in the fourth quarter is the team that we’re capable of being for four quarters,” he said. “This is the team that’s going to have to show up in Pac-12 play. Obviously, there are some things we have to correct defensively and offensively and on special teams. And they will get corrected. But there are a lot of positives to take from it.”

Whittingham praised Rising’s ability to move the Utah offense and provide a sense of urgency.

“He’s a competitor. Not to take anything away from Charlie because Charlie is a competitor as well,” he said. “But Cam came in and gave us that spark with his legs as well as his arm. He came in off the bench and he settled in and did a great job once he got into a rhythm. And he got into a rhythm quickly.”

What is Rising expecting this week?

“I’m not too sure. I just like to play things for how it is; whatever is presented to me is presented to me,” he said. “I’m just going to come in Monday, clear heart and clear eyes, and focus and do whatever they tell me to do.”

Lloyd said he was planning to hold a “player-only meeting” Sunday to discuss how the team will respond moving forward.

“We have to dig deep down and find out who we want to be because all the potential is there,” Lloyd said. “But it’s a matter of being that team for four quarters.”

Rising and Brewer battled throughout fall camp and the race for the starting job wasn’t decided until late in the process, about a week before the season kicked off. The coaches decided to start Brewer.

“I’m not saying we’re giving up on Charlie Brewer. I’m just saying that we’ve got to get the guy in there that gives us the best chance to win,” Whittingham said. “Our job as coaches is to evaluate that film (Sunday) and make that tough decision. It won’t be an easy one. But the bottom line is, who gives us the best chance to win? That is ultimately what it all boils down to.”

Heading into Pac-12 play, Whittingham wants to see the fire that his team showed in the fourth quarter against SDSU.

“Offensively, we need to get things shored up. What you saw in the last quarter is what we have to be for an entire game,” he said. “We’ve got to have rhythm and explosiveness in the offense. That’s what we were for most of the fourth quarter.”

In the second half, defensive lineman Viane Moala suffered what Whittingham called “a lower body injury.” He was carted off the field and taken to the hospital.

Whittingham said he’d know more Sunday about Moala’s condition. “We’re hoping it’s not a long-term healing process,” the coach said.