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What can Kyle Whittingham learn from injury-plagued Utes’ tape against Weber State?

Rather than reading into individual results or performances, the Utes coach and his staff are analyzing the fundamentals

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Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham on the sidelines

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Weber State Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. The No. 11-ranked Utes are preparing for their Pac-12 opener against UCLA on Saturday.

Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

How much can Utah take away from its win over FCS opponent Weber State?

In its final nonconference game before a grueling Pac-12 schedule, with backups playing all over the field, Utah won 31-7. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t reading too much into the final score, but instead evaluating the Utes’ technique.

“I’m sure UCLA is very thankful that we’re beat up and so you can’t sit there and complain and whine, you just move forward.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

“We should have an FCS school outmanned, which we did. ... That’s not to be disparaging because they’re a really good team and they’ll win a lot of games.”

Rather than reading into individual results or performances against the Wildcats, Whittingham and his staff are analyzing the fundamentals.

“We’re looking for alignment, assignment, angles to the ball, fundamentals, technique, that type of thing more so than the final result. We’re looking at how we do things, not necessarily how we’re doing,” he said.

Utah opens Pac-12 play against UCLA on Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT) in a battle of unbeatens. The Bruins’ nonconference schedule featured an FCS team in North Carolina Central, the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina and Mountain West team San Diego State.

With backup quarterbacks playing, Utah’s offense has been relatively conservative. Utah pulled out a few flashy plays against Florida — Bryson Barnes’ 70-yard pass to Money Parks on the opening play and a trick play where Devaughn Vele threw it just a bit too far for an open Micah Bernard — but for the most part has played it close to the vest on offense so far.

Ditto for UCLA. Chip Kelly and the Bruins haven’t had to pull out all of the stops yet this season.

“We are fully aware that that’s a possibility,” Whittingham said in response to a question about if the Bruins are holding things back for conference play.

“They haven’t had as rigorous a schedule as some teams in the conference, but you can tell a lot, regardless of competition, just watching the players move ... how they move, how fast they get from point A to point B and just overall athleticism, how sound they are with their fundamentals, particularly at the line of scrimmage and that type of thing,” Whittingham said.

The Utes hope to get healthy before the UCLA game — Whittingham estimates about 16 of Utah’s 36 players that figure in “prominently” are injured. A running list of players who were missing against Weber State: quarterback Cam Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe, offensive lineman Johnny Maea, wide receivers Devaughn Vele and Mycah Pittman, running back Micah Bernard (out for the season), defensive tackles Junior Tafuna and Simote Pepa, defensive end Connor O’Toole, cornerback JaTravis Broughton and kicker Cole Becker.

Three additional players were injured in Saturday’s game, including wide receiver Munir McClain, who had a breakout game with 92 yards.

Quarterback Brandon Rose, who potentially could have won the backup job, was injured during a fall scrimmage.


Utes on the air

No. 11 Utah (3-0)
vs. No. 22 UCLA (3-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Rice-Eccles Stadium
TV: Fox
Radio: ESPN 700/92.1 FM

“It’s been challenging, but we’ve been able to piece it together these first three weeks and find combinations that work and make adjustments, modifications here and there, but it will sure be nice to hopefully start to get some of these guys back,” Whittingham said.

At full strength, Whittingham believes that Utah is a “very good football team,” but it’s hard to judge until everyone is back.

“That’s pointless really to think about that because that’s not the case and so you just do the best you can with the circumstances that you have,” Whittingham said.

Healthy or not, the No. 11 Utes will take the field Saturday against the No. 22 Bruins.

“I’m sure UCLA is very thankful that we’re beat up and so you can’t sit there and complain and whine, you just move forward,” Whittingham said.