In the wake of back-to-back losses, Utah’s situation became so dire that team captains decided to call a players-only meeting after last Saturday’s 33-31 triple-overtime setback to San Diego State.

Utes on the air

Washington State (1-2)

at Utah (1-2)  

Saturday, 12:30 p.m. MDT

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 700

The players met Sunday and engaged in a conversation about what needed to change and what needed to be fixed, as the Utes head into their Pac-12 opener Saturday (12:30 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Network) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. 

“I thought it went very well, actually,” linebacker and team captain Devin Lloyd said of the gathering. “A lot of the older guys kind of discussed how we felt as far as how the season has gone so far and what we want to get out of it. I thought it was very productive.”

Lloyd said the meeting provided “a little more ‘bought-in’ by everybody. It showed (Tuesday) at practice as well.”

According to players that attended the meeting, quarterback Charlie Brewer was in attendance but he did not speak. 

With Charlie Brewer moving on, how will Cam Rising respond as Utah’s QB 1 for the second time?

It’s unclear what role, if any, the players-only meeting played in Brewer’s decision to leave the program. 

The following day Brewer met with coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Charlie made the decision that it was in his best interest to move on. He thought about it for a day and confirmed it (Tuesday),” Whittingham said. “We had a conversation. You give him advice and tell him the way you see it. He felt like it was in his best interest to get to a new place.”

Whittingham said they did not discuss the coaching staff’s decision to make Cam Rising the starting quarterback.  

“We didn’t talk about that,” the coach said. “We just talked about his future.”

Rising is one of four team captains voted on by the players before the season started. Brewer started the first three games and was replaced Saturday late in the third quarter. Rising was able to resurrect a moribund offense and force overtime. Rising threw three touchdown passes and seemed to inspire his teammates. 

After the game, Lloyd told the media that a players-only meeting was being planned. 

But Whittingham said he didn’t know about the meeting until after it happened and was told about it by the captains. 

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham looks on from the sideline during game against San Diego State Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Carson, Calif. The Utes fell in triple-overtime to drop to 1-2 on the season. | Ashley Landis, Associated Press

“It appeared to be very productive and they got some things hashed out. It was a positive,” Whittingham said. “We’ll find out if it helps us throughout the practice week and the game. Certainly, it’s an indicator that there’s a lot of care and investment by them to do that. It wasn’t encouraged. They did it on their own.”

Captain Mika Tafua, a defensive lineman, described the players-only meeting as “kind of like a family council.” 

“Everybody getting together and talking about what we can do better. Obviously, there’s stuff that we’ve got to get better at,” he said. “We were discussing the things we can improve on — offense, defense, special teams, individually, as a unit, and as a team. I feel like there was a lot of clarity coming out of that meeting of what’s expected of everyone. It was a beneficial meeting. It was something that we needed.”

Another team captain, receiver Britain Covey, said the meeting was a chance for players to decide what they want the team culture to be moving forward. 

“Forget about what people say on social media or injuries. How do we reinforce that this week?” he said. “It wasn’t a meeting about ‘the sky is falling.’ It was a meeting of what do we want to be? It’s a turning point … I think people came out of it positive.”

An expensive T-shirt and mea culpas

Lloyd emphasized that the team felt a new energy after the meeting. 

“It just goes to show how much leadership we have on this team,” he said. “It’s a buy-in from a lot of the young guys and guys whose roles may not be as big but still as valuable.”

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During the offseason, much was made about the bevy of leaders on this team. Now, after two straight losses, their leadership is being put to the test. 

“We don’t have as many seniors necessarily but I’d say we have just as many, if not more, leaders from guys that have been in the program three-plus years,” Lloyd said. “There are a lot of guys that have been in this program for a long time. Those guys are stepping up as leaders. We saw it in the players’ meeting and during practice and really all year.”

As poorly as this season has gone, Utah can still reach its ultimate goal. The Utes are 0-0 in conference play and undeterred about what they can accomplish.

“We’re thinking Pac-12 championship,” Tafua said. “That’s our goal.” 

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