Kyle Whittingham recounts ‘nightmarish’ return home, but that wasn’t his only frustration
The Utes were stranded in Gainesville until Sunday due to a mechanical issue with their plane.
It was bad enough that No. 7 Utah suffered a gut-wrenching 29-26 loss at Florida Saturday night at The Swamp.
But the experience returning home — a longer-than-expected journey — made a tough situation even worse.
The Utes were stranded in Gainesville until Sunday due to a mechanical issue with their plane. The team didn’t arrive in Salt Lake City until 7:20 p.m. MDT, and didn’t arrive on campus until 8:30 p.m.
“We weren’t very good on defense. Far too soft in the run game, missed too many tackles, not good enough in the red zone.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
“In my 30-plus years of coaching, it was the most nightmarish (travel) situation I’ve come across. I’ll leave it at that,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday during his weekly news conference. “I feel bad for the players. When you play a physical game like that — any game is physical, but especially that one. You have no time to rest and recover. You’re sitting on a bus and then sitting on a plane at a terminal. I felt bad for those guys. It’s unfortunate to have them go through that.”
Utah senior communications athletic director Paul Kirk tweeted early Sunday morning that an “alternative plan” was being devised to fly back to Salt Lake City, adding that the University of Florida worked to help the situation.
With no classes due to the Labor Day holiday, the Utes held a walk-through Monday. Whittingham said the plan Tuesday is to put on pads and “get back after it.”
Utah hosts Southern Utah Saturday (11:30 a.m., MDT, Pac-12 Network).
Certainly, the Utes have plenty to work on after the setback at Florida.
Whittingham said the offense played “exceptionally well with the one glaring exception of red-zone production, which is a big exception.”
The game essentially ended when quarterback Cam Rising threw an interception into the end zone with 17 seconds remaining. On that play, tight end Dalton Kincaid fell down.
“That’s who (Rising) was going to,” Whittingham said.
The pass was picked off by Florida linebacker Amari Burney. “(Florida) played a nice scheme,” Whittingham said. “I don’t think Cam saw (the defender).”
Whittingham was pleased with the offensive line play.
“We didn’t play as well in the first half as we did in the second. We allowed zero sacks. Cam had plenty of time on most of the dropbacks,” he said. “He left the pocket a couple of times where he didn’t even need to because the protection was clean. I give them a B-plus grade. They were physical.”
In a late move, the coaching staff moved Sataoa Laumea from right guard to right tackle, replacing Jaren Kump. That switch paid off.
“He performed admirably out there,” Whittingham said of Laumea. “That’s a move that’s going to stick … He played tackle in high school. We felt like after long evaluation and examination that that was our best option and it proved to be the case.”
Freshman Michael Mokofisi was moved from left guard to right guard.
“He was very physical,” Whittingham said of Mokofisi. “I know his best days are ahead of him. We’ve got the right five out there. I thought they played very well. It wasn’t perfect but they were playing against really good guys.”
Meanwhile, Whittingham was frustrated by the defensive performance. The Utes surrendered 451 yards of offense to the Gators, including 283 rushing yards.
“If you watch the tape,” Whittingham said, “our run defense was abysmal.”
Added the coach: “We weren’t very good on defense. Far too soft in the run game, missed too many tackles, not good enough in the red zone. That was disappointing to see our defense not play as well as we know they’re capable of. We’ve got to coach them better. It starts with us as coaches.”
Nothing really surprised Whittingham about the opponent and the atmosphere at The Swamp.
“A tough, physical game down in Gainesville. Just as we expected. They’re an outstanding football team. Their quarterback (Anthony Richardson) is a tremendous player,” he said. “They’re physical and they’re fast. It’s everything you’d expect from an upper-level SEC team. That’s what they are. Hostile environment. It was loud. Nothing took us by surprise. We were expecting exactly what we got as far as the atmosphere and the matchup.”
Whittingham just wasn’t counting on the issues his team faced leaving after Saturday’s game. Certainly, the Utes are happy to be back home after a long, tough weekend in Gainesville.
Southern Utah (1-0) at No. 7 Utah (0-1)
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. MDT
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700