Without injured tight end Brant Kuithe, who suffered a season-ending injury at Arizona State on Sept. 24, No. 11 Utah relied on a bevy of other players to make up for that void last Saturday.
The Utes defeated Oregon State 42-16 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and coach Kyle Whittingham was pleased with what he saw out of the passing game.
“Our efficiency throwing the ball on offense” was one of the highlights Whittingham pointed out from the outing.
Quarterback Cam Rising completed 19 of 25 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns. He completed passes to eight different receivers — including Devaughn Vele, who caught a team-high seven passes for 94 yards and a TD.
Whittingham liked seeing a lot of different players involved.
“That’s what needs to happen and that’s what we talked about all week,” he said. “It’s going to be a concerted effort by a bunch of people to pick up the slack for Brant, not just one guy … Everybody’s got to elevate. I believe we did that (Saturday).”
Rising said “it was different” not having Kuithe on the field Saturday but he was able to spread the ball around.
“The guys answered and they did everything they needed throughout the week and really took ownership to make sure they were ready to go,” he said. “They took advantage of their opportunities.”
The Utes will be looking for more of the same Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, Fox) when they face No. 18 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) at the Rose Bowl.
Against OSU, wide receiver Jaylen Dixon scored two touchdowns — a 19-yard diving catch in the first quarter and a 22-yard reverse in the third quarter.
“That’s good for JD. He made a terrific catch early in the game. It was a third-down catch,” Whittingham said. “That was not easy. He did a great job adjusting to that and Cam put the ball right where it needed to be.”
Vele was happy to see so many of his fellow receivers contribute.
“I see a lot of growth. We’ve got a lot of young guys like Makai Cope and Money Parks. Then we have guys like (Dixon) that’s been around for a while. It’s getting opportunities to make plays,” he said.
“As big a loss as it was with Kuithe going down, we understood as receivers that we needed to be playmakers on the outside. We always attack the middle and we always have a good run game. But we understood that we have to be a vital role in the offense in igniting and sparking the offense and making big plays.”
Meanwhile, Whittingham was “very concerned” about the run game.
“The disappointing thing on offense was our inability to run the ball,” he said. “We could never really take over the line of scrimmage, which is something typically that we do. That was a negative for us.”
Utah gained 162 yards on the ground. Rising was the Utes’ leading rusher with 73 yards on seven carries, including a gritty, stiff-arming, 24-yard touchdown run.
Whittingham was fine with the number of times Rising ran.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too much. A few were escapes on drop-back passes. That’s obviously not designed. He’s designed to carry the ball six, eight, 10 times a game. The big thing is, at the end of the run, don’t take collisions,” he said.
“Stay out of harm’s way. Slide. Get out of bounds. Dive for daylight. You don’t want him taking hits. That’s the big thing. He’s pretty adept at staying away from real solid shots. He’s got great running ability. We need that week-in and week-out. He’s not going to carry the ball 15 times by design but if he can get us six or eight critical runs at critical times, that’s what he does for us.”
Rising said his decisions to run were based on “just taking advantage of whatever the defense is giving me. The offense did a great job blocking.”
Whittingham added that Rising’s running sparks the rest of the team.
“They know he’s a warrior,” he said. “He’s our leader. They know how competitive he is. That fires everybody up.”
No. 11 Utah (4-1, 2-0) at No. 18 UCLA (5-0, 2-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700