No. 12 Utah wants to avoid leaving ‘meat on the bone’ against Oregon State on Saturday
Last October in loss to OSU, the Utes turned in their most inconsistent performance in Pac-12 play. They do not want a repeat performance this in 2022
Utah team captain and defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi remembers last year’s game at Oregon State as “one of the weirdest” that he’s ever played in.
Even before it started, there were hints that it might be a strange night.
“These guys got us last year. They outplayed us. Our offense played well but we didn’t do a whole lot on defense or on special teams.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on loss to Beavers in 2021
“We were at the hotel an hour away, and we had to drive into Corvallis,” Kaufusi recalled.
As it turned out, it was the Utes’ most inconsistent performance in Pac-12 play last season. And that night at Reser Stadium last October, the Beavers handed Utah its only league loss.
The Utes’ offense, defense and special teams had breakdowns and fell to OSU, 42-34. Utah jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter but faltered in the end as the Beavers exploited the Utes’ mistakes.
“That one definitely still stings,” Kaufusi said.
As the Beavers visit Rice-Eccles Stadium to face No. 13 Utah Saturday (noon MDT, Pac-12 Network) in its annual homecoming game, the Utes are on high alert due to last year’s setback.
“These guys got us last year. They outplayed us. Our offense played well but we didn’t do a whole lot on defense or on special teams,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “Hopefully, we’ll play better this year. They are an excellent football team. They played (USC) right down to the wire (last week). They’re well-coached, tough and physical. There’s a lot of similarities between the two programs.”
In that “Pac-12 After Dusk” showdown a year ago, Utah squandered some scoring opportunities in the red zone; it gave up a blocked punt; and it surrendered 468 yards of offense, including 260 on the ground.
Ute quarterback Cam Rising recalls the Utes’ inability to capitalize fully in the red zone.
“I remember we left a lot of meat on the bone in the red zone,” he said. “We’ve just got to make sure that we’re punching the ball in when we get the opportunities down there. We’ve got to make sure that everything is as clean as possible because this is a good Oregon State football team.”
Last week, in a 34-13 victory at Arizona State, Utah stalled three times inside the red zone and that’s been a focus this week in practices.
“We left a lot of meat on the bone down in the red zone. There’s a lot of things that we need to correct and just keep getting better at,” Rising said. “We need to execute and make sure we’re as efficient as we can be.”
Whittingham wants to see more efficiency in the red zone.
“We’ve got to be disciplined. We can’t have false starts down there,” he said. “You can’t shoot yourself in the foot in the red zone.”
Tight end Dalton Kincaid said the offense needs to improve when it comes to red-zone production.
“That’s definitely a big emphasis, start fast and score in the red zone every time we have the chance to,” he said.
Going into the ASU game, the offense wanted to get off to a faster start. That happened as the Utes got off to a quick 14-0 lead.
“We got off to a better start. Red-zone efficiency is definitely an emphasis as well,” Kincaid said. “Putting those two together will be good for us.”
Of course, the Utes will be without star tight end Brant Kuithe, who suffered a season-ending injury last week at Arizona State. That puts more of an onus on Kincaid and tight end Thomas Yassmin, as well as the receivers, to pick up the slack.
As for special teams, Utah surrendered a couple of long kickoff returns against Sun Devils.
That’s something that worries Whittingham.
“Very concerned because it showed up last year. It was not a problem until this past week,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching. We’ve got to do a better job of rotating, staying in our lanes. We had some missed tackles. It’s a big concern. We’ve got to get that corrected.”
Saturday’s game is Utah’s first in what is expected to be a gauntlet in the month of October.
After playing OSU, the Utes visit UCLA and host No. 6 USC before capping the month with a game at Washington State, which gave No. 13 Oregon a scare last week.
“I’m just focused on Oregon State. I’m sure we have some tough games in October,” Whittingham said. “I couldn’t tell you who they are. That’s legitimate. We’re going to put everything we have into this next game.”
Right now, all that is in Utah’s sights is making sure what happened last year in Corvallis doesn’t happen Saturday in Salt Lake City.
“It was a game we can’t forget,” said defensive line coach Lewis Powell, who added that his players “are excited to face these guys again and hopefully get some payback.”
Speaking of payback, a couple of weeks ago, the Utes avenged their 2021 loss to San Diego State with a 35-7 home victory.
Can Utah do what it didn’t last year — beat Oregon State?
“Having them here and to get after them and make things right it’s what we have in front of us. It’s a big stepping stone into Pac-12 play,” Kaufusi said. “It’s a little revenge tour.”
Utes on the air
Oregon State (3-1, 0-1) at No. 12 Utah (3-1, 1-0)
Saturday, noon MDT
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700