At the bye week, Utah is 4-1. The Utes have wins over Florida, Baylor and UCLA, with their only loss coming in a road game against now-No. 15 Oregon State.

But there are plenty of issues to fix if Utah wants to contend for a third-straight Pac-12 title in a deep conference with five teams in the Top 15.

Though they are hampered by injuries, Utah’s current offensive production is untenable. Averaging 297.6 yards of total offense a game, the Utes rank 126 of 130 FBS teams, with only Nevada, Kent State, Eastern Michigan and Iowa ranking lower.

Things hit a breaking point in Friday’s loss after Utah gained just 198 yards of offense in the loss at Oregon State. Quarterback Nate Johnson was benched in the early third quarter and was replaced by Bryson Barnes, who was injured after a rough hit by Oregon State.

Simply put, there’s been a severe lack of production when Utah has the ball. The Utes have scored just 14 offensive points in the last nine quarters of play. From the quarterback position to the running backs room to the offensive line to the wide receivers, Utah has a lot to improve on.

“(We need to) get back in sync on offense. We really, the last two games, we haven’t been nearly productive enough and we’ve got to get that fixed. So that’s job one,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Whittingham doesn’t point to one particular group, it’s the offense as a whole that needs to get better.

“Got to coach it better. Got to put our guys in a position to succeed better. Got to have that execution. I mean it’s across the board. There really isn’t any one thing, I wish it was just one thing. It’s more than one thing, so we got to get it figured out in a short period of time,” Whittingham said.

Utah is missing its two biggest offensive weapons, quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe, along with its two top running backs, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Micah Bernard (Bernard is out for the season); wide receiver Mycah Pittman; a starting offensive lineman in Johnny Maea; and a backup quarterback in Barnes.

That’s a ton of missing production.

So, with about a week-and-a-half until Utah’s next game, is that enough time for players to heal up and make their return?

Whittingham indicated Maea could be close, he was seen dressed in uniform and warming up prior to the Oregon State, but ultimately didn’t play. Jackson is still dealing with a lingering ankle injury suffered in fall camp and missed the Oregon State game.

“Yeah, we had a bunch of guys banged up. We’ll see who we get back. But the bye week is hopefully going to help us get some of those guys back, but too early to tell right now. We’ll have to wait until at least the end of this week and probably the beginning of next week,” Whittingham said.

As for Rising, final clearance is still up to his ACL surgeon. It’s the same case for Kuithe. Both surgeries were performed by Los Angeles-based Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who is well-known as one of the go-to doctors for athletes (he also performed Aaron Rodgers’ achilles surgery).

Whittingham said that they should know whether Rising is playing or not earlier in the week, as opposed to what has been happening, with Utah getting informed later in the week.

“I think one of the problems is we’ve been waiting till the end of the week and we’re going to get an answer early in the week next week,” Whittingham said.

Rising has led some of the best offenses in school history. If he returns for the Cal game, how quickly can he turn the offense around? Some of that will depend on the other offensive injuries, plus the offensive line and run game having better performances to open up the pass game, but if he can return to last year’s level of play relatively quickly, it would inject much-needed life into Utah’s offense.

“Well, we hope it will solve a lot, but we’ll have to see. We’re just taking it day by day by day,” Whittingham said.

If Rising can’t go, with Barnes injured, it would be Johnson as the starter. Behind Johnson, options are running thin. Whittingham said it would either be Luke Bottari or Brandon Rose in the QB2 spot if Johnson starts.

Rose, thought to be the primary backup behind Rising out of spring ball and entering fall camp, was injured in a fall scrimmage.

On Sept. 18, Whittingham said that since Rose had missed so much time, “it’s going to be hard to catch up when in fact he’s back with us and it’s almost to the point where barring unforeseen circumstances, he’s probably out of time to get in the mix this year.”

Well, those unforeseen circumstance may be here.

“He may have to (play), due to not having anyone available,” Whittingham said Tuesday night. “We’re trying to redshirt him, which we still can. You get four games so he’s got plenty of cushion there, but we’ll just have to see who’s available on Monday.”

This is as tough of a season Whittingham has ever had on the injury front.

“As far as losing guys and having to plug in new people and waiting on your quarterback every week, it is very unique and so we’re just trying to navigate it the best we can,” Whittingham said.

Utah’s Logan Fano shares health update online
Bye week arrives at perfect time for hobbled Utes
Bryson Barnes travels home with Utah after hospital visit

As bad as the offense has been, it’s been the opposite for Utah’s defense. Morgan Scalley’s group has almost single-handily won Utah games throughout the season. Utah is ranked No. 15 in the nation in total yardage allowed (282.6 yards allowed per game) and they’re the best in the country at getting off the field on third down, holding opponents to a 21.2% third-down conversion rate.

Defensive end Jonah Elliss leads the nation in sacks — Utah’s defensive front has been able to generate pressure — and Utah’s safety duo of Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki have played well.

There’s some key injuries here as well. Defensive end Logan Fano tore his ACL against Oregon State and is out for the season and defensive end Connor O’Toole hasn’t played yet this season, but could be close to returning.

Overall, this unit has played about as well as you could hope for, but when they’re continually running out there with no offensive help, cracks can start to show.

If there’s one thing the defense can improve on, it’s limiting passing yards. Utah ranks No. 53 in total passing yards, allowing an average of 215.6 yards per game, and the secondary looked out of position at times.

View Comments

Special teams have been a bright spot, especially punting. Unfortunately for Utah, punter Jack Bouwmeester has been needed a lot, and the Utes rank sixth in the nation in total punting yards (1,248), allowing just 28 total opponent punt return yards.

Kicker Cole Becker has looked like the answer to Utah’s field goal and kickoff woes of last year, but has missed the last three games with an injury. He warmed up and dressed in uniform at Oregon State, but didn’t play. If he can return, that will boost the Utes’ special teams unit further.

The most crucial portion of Utah’s schedule is here. After hosting cal Cal, the Utes play at USC and vs. Oregon in back-to-back weeks, which will likely determine if they are playing in a third straight Pac-12 championship game. With one conference loss already, there’s little room for error.

“Team is in good spirits. Obviously disappointed from the loss. It was a tough meeting yesterday that we had, but we put that (Oregon State) game to bed. It’s time to move on and it’s all about Cal,” Whittingham said.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.