Paging all playmakers: Who will step up to ignite Utah’s sputtering offense?
It’s not that the Utes don’t have weapons. They have proven players like tight end Brant Kuithe, and wide receivers Bryan Thompson, Samson Nacua and Britain Covey. And a new one in freshman running back Ty Jordan
No doubt, Utah’s offense needs to score more points. To do that, the Utes need to unshackle their playmakers.
That’s something to watch for when Utah hosts Oregon State Saturday (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
It’s not that the Utes (0-2) don’t have weapons. They have proven players like tight end Brant Kuithe, and wide receivers Bryan Thompson, Samson Nacua and Britain Covey.
Trouble is, they haven’t been as impactful as expected in Utah’s first two games — losses to USC and Washington.
In the 24-21 setback against the Huskies last Saturday, Thompson caught three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown and Kuithe grabbed four receptions for 23 yards. Thompson hauled in a 33-yard pass on Utah’s opening drive.
Most of the production from Thompson and Kuithe came in the first half when Utah jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead.
“We’ve got to take a look at what we did from an offensive standpoint and figure out why we stopped getting the ball to the playmakers,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “That’s always job No. 1 on offense. It’s about getting the ball into the hands of our weapons. We were better this week than last week but still not good enough, particularly in the second half.”
Thompson had 18 catches for 461 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, averaging 25.6 yards per catch. He recorded a pair of 100-yard receiving games, 111 against Washington State and 105 against Idaho State.
Kuithe has been the Utes’ leading tight end in receptions the past two seasons and was Utah’s receiving leader with 602 yards in 2019. He was named All-Pac-12 second team and a PFF All-America third-team selection last season.
Covey missed the season opener against USC with a hamstring injury. He didn’t have a catch against Washington and he returned one punt for 4 yards.
Quarterback Jake Bentley said “it’s extremely important” that Covey get involved in the offense.
“Brit’s a dynamic playmaker. He’s a guy that can change a game with one play,” Bentley added. “It’s going to be very important to have him rolling and ready to go.”
In 2018, Covey led the Utes in receptions (60), yards (637) and yards per game (49). He finished with 1,174 all-purpose yards, including 172 rushing yards, 221 punt return yards and 144 kick return yards.
Meanwhile, Utah has discovered one new playmaker this season — 5-foot-7 freshman Ty Jordan. Against Washington, Jordan rushed 10 times for 97 yards and he caught four passes for 31 yards.
Jordan has been the most consistent in terms of production for the Utes this season in the run game among four running backs.
“It sure looks like he’s starting to separate himself. We got him the ball more this week than last week,” Whittingham said. “He’s got great balance .... He’s a tough guy to tackle with a low center of gravity. He’s got good vision. He’s going to do a lot of good things for us during his career. He’s just getting started.”
Unfortunately for the Utes, Jordan fumbled early in the fourth quarter inside the Washington 20-yard line, halting an impressive drive when Utah led 21-17.
“I firmly believe we would probably have scored when Ty fumbled there in the red zone,” Whittingham said. “But he did some really good things for us. He’s an electrifying player.”
Another playmaker, Nacua, missed the Washington game. He saw action against USC on special teams and as a reserve wideout. He caught three passes for 29 yards, and a 7-yard touchdown catch, against the Trojans.
Nacua had 18 catches for 330 yards (18 ypc) and four receiving touchdowns last season.
Can Utah get the ball into the hands of their playmakers? It’s something that certainly will be a focus this week in practice. It’s all about playing a complete game.
Obviously, the Utes, who haven’t scored in the second half this season, need to find ways to score points in the third and fourth quarters. And they need to avoid turnovers. They’ve given away the ball nine times in two games.
“We’ve got to look at the film and get those mistakes fixed,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to put together a whole 60 (minutes).”