PULLMAN, Wash. — Utah’s rushing attack hasn’t been as productive as expected this season.
Tavion Thomas, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2021, has carried the ball 93 times for 414 yards and five touchdowns. He hasn’t been as consistent as the Utes would have liked.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said during the bye week that one of his main objectives has been figuring out the pecking order at running back, but he offered no details Monday, saying that “will be kept internally. We won’t tip our hand.”
Whittingham did add that the Utes will be “maximizing our strengths.” What he wants to see on the field is “more production” moving forward.
“We’re not as productive in the run game this year as we have been in years past,” Whittingham said. “But on the other side of that, we’re throwing the ball pretty darn well. We seem to be at our best when we’re running the ball effectively.”
Yes, the passing game has been very effective, highlighted by quarterback Cam Rising’s 415 yards and two touchdowns in a 43-42 victory over USC.
Thursday, the Utes face an aggressive Washington State defense. However, in the Cougars’ most recent game against Oregon State, they yielded a season-high 203 rushing yards on 47 carries.
“They do a good job of disrupting the quarterback, making it hard for him to stay in the pocket. It’s going to be a challenge for the O line and all the receivers to make sure they get out and get open fast,” Rising said. “They have some great players over there. They do a good job of disrupting and making the quarterback uncomfortable. It’s going to be a fun battle.”
Utah’s offensive line allowed zero sacks against USC, which entered the game No. 1 in the nation in sacks.
Wide receiver Devaughn Vele said the offense needs to be effective and consistent against WSU.
“They’re just making plays, that’s the biggest thing,” he said about the Cougars defense. “They’re very fundamentally sound and they play hard. … Offensively, we understand that if we want to win games, we’ve got to score a lot of points. It’s going to be a great game in my opinion.”
Utah’s offense had its struggles in previous road losses against Florida and UCLA.
How can the Utes fix that?
“It’s just execution in a hostile environment,” Vele said. “At Florida and UCLA, we started off slow and we started finding our football but it was already too late. We’ve got to make sure we start off right off the bat and execute early on.”
Utes on the air
No. 14 Utah (5-2, 3-1)
at Washington State (4-3, 1-3)
Thursday, 8 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700