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‘We’re better than that offensively’: Kyle Whittingham says Utah’s offense was ‘abysmal’ against USC

There were encouraging signs on the offense, most notably freshman running back Ty Jordan, who rushed seven times for 32 yards and caught one pass for 21 yards

Utah Utes running back Ty Jordan (22) is tackled by USC Trojans safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (21) and linebacker Ralen Goforth (10) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
Utah Utes running back Ty Jordan (22) is tackled by USC Trojans safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (21) and linebacker Ralen Goforth (10) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

In a strange, shortened, pandemic-altered season, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows his team has plenty of work to do on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

With only one game in the books, a 33-17 loss to No. 19 USC last weekend, it’s a small sample size. But the Trojans exposed some weaknesses.

The Ute offense, which was forced to change quarterbacks, from sophomore Cam Rising to senior Jake Bentley in the second quarter due to a season-ending injury to Rising, sputtered most of the night.

“We’re better than that offensively. What we saw on Saturday night was not us. Ten points and five turnovers was abysmal,” Whittingham said. “That’s something that we have to get changed, and we have the players to change it. We’ve got to get that rectified and have a much better, more productive performance this week … We’ve just got to play better. They are capable of playing better and I would expect that they will play better.”

No doubt, Utah’s offensive line fell short of expectations.

“We didn’t control the line of scrimmage like we expected to. Credit USC — they did a nice job with their defensive line and their front seven in general. We were expecting much more control of the line of scrimmage and a better push and we didn’t get it,” Whittingham said. “That was really the most pressing issue and it was what was the most problematic for us in that game.”

Meanwhile, five turnovers doomed the Utes.

“We turned the ball over five times. That was the biggest statistic in the game. Against a team like USC, you can’t turn the ball over five times and have a chance to win,” Whittingham said. “It just doesn’t happen. As far as what occurred in down after down, it was our inability to control the line of scrimmage, which really surprised me.”

There were encouraging signs on the offense, most notably freshman running back Ty Jordan, who rushed seven times for 32 yards and caught one pass for 21 yards. Whittingham said he’s like to see Jordan get more opportunities with the ball in his hands.

“(Jordan) showed a lot of big-play potential,” Whittingham said. “He’s an explosive, dynamic player.”

Defensively, Utah held USC below its season averages in rushing and passing the ball. The Utes allowed four field goals, and no touchdowns, in the second half.

“It was a great start defensively. I thought they handled the adversity and the situations they were put in very well, particularly with five or six freshmen playing for us. We feel good about those guys. We’re not making excuses or complaining but those were guys that hadn’t played college football before and we thought they handled it pretty well,” Whittingham said.

“It wasn’t perfect. They made some mistakes, missed some tackles and blew a couple of assignments. But overall, it was a pretty darn good showing. There were some real positives there. We held them to less than 100 yards rushing, which is always our starting point on defense — to turn a team one-dimensional. In the throw game, we gave up a little bit but not a ton. We came away with a couple of takeaways and a touchdown on a scoop-and-score. ... A lot to improve upon but it was encouraging.”