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Spate of turnovers leaves Utes feeling ‘disgusted’ — and looking for answers

At Washington, the Utes had three second-half turnovers as they watched a three-touchdown halftime advantage disappear. In the season-opening loss to USC, Utah coughed up the ball five times. Yes, that’s nine turnovers in two games

USC Trojans defensive lineman Connor Murphy (90) recovers a fumble by Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
USC Trojans defensive lineman Connor Murphy recovers a fumble by Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

When Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was asked Tuesday morning if he is surprised that the offense has given up nine turnovers in its first two games, he didn’t mince words.

“I’m disgusted with it, not surprised. Disgusted,” Ludwig said. “No, I didn’t see it coming. We have been a very good ball security football team. It is a constant point of emphasis with every player on the offensive unit. But obviously we have to do a much better job of taking care of the football. It’s all about the ball. We’ve got to do a much better job, starting with the quarterback position.”

It’s an issue the Utes are hoping to remedy when they host Oregon State Saturday (8:30 p.m. MST, ESPN).

In last Saturday’s 24-21 loss at Washington, Utah had three second-half turnovers as it watched a three-touchdown halftime advantage melt away.

In the season-opening loss to USC, Utah coughed up the ball five times.

Yes, that’s nine turnovers in two games.

“If you boil it right down to the bare bones, that’s been our issue. If we turn the ball over one time in each game, we probably win both of them,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “But that’s shoulda, woulda, coulda. It’s not the case but that’s how impactful it’s been.”

Whittingham said ball security is something that is always emphasized with his players.

“We go about it every day of the week. We dedicate (time) to nothing but ball security drills. We’ve been doing that for years,” he said. “Andy is very tuned in to that. Nobody is neglecting that. Nobody is not paying attention to that. We’re all paying attention to it and it’s something we always do pay attention to. It’s something that we will continue to emphasize.”

If anything, Whittingham worries about overemphasizing ball security.

“There comes a point where you harp on things too much and it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy where it becomes a negative if you rant and rave about it too much,” he said. “So our guys understand how important it is. There’s nobody on our offense that doesn’t get it as far as ball security. We’ve got to continue to do a better job.”

Perhaps the spate of turnovers can be attributed to breaking in not one, but two, new quarterbacks. Or maybe it has something to do with so many young players on the roster.

Utah’s first turnover of the season, against USC, happened near the end of the first quarter when new starting quarterback Cam Rising threw an interception on a screen pass.

On the first play of the next series, Rising was sacked and fumbled. The Trojans recovered the ball inside the 5-yard line and Rising suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Senior Jake Bentley took over for Rising and midway through the second quarter, freshman running back Ty Jordan fumbled the ball.

Bentley threw two more picks that night, one in the third quarter and one in the fourth.

At Washington, Bentley fumbled to end Utah’s first drive and threw an interception early in the third quarter as he tried to connect with Britain Covey.

“I’ve got to be better in that area, for sure,” Bentley said of his turnovers. “It’s something that has to be eliminated if we want to win games. It’s something we plan on getting fixed in practice.”

While evaluating Bentley’s performance this season, Ludwig said, “Jake Bentley has worked very hard to improve every day, every week. There’s plenty of improvement that needs to be made. We did get better from week 1 to week 2. We need to see substantial improvement from week 2 to week 3.”

Two of Bentley’s interceptions this season happened on the Utes’ final offensive play of both games as he tried to make a play at the end.

Meanwhile, early in the fourth quarter against Washington, Jordan fumbled inside the Huskies 20-yard line, dooming a prime scoring opportunity.

Whittingham has been effusive in his praise for Jordan as a ballcarrier and playmaker but he acknowledged the freshman needs to be better at holding on to the football.

“He did put the ball on the ground one time, which is unfortunate because we were deep in the red zone,” Whittingham said. “If we score on that drive, I believe we win the game. But he’s doing the best he can for a young freshman. He’ll get better with his ball security.”

Certainly, turnovers have been an unfortunate eyesore for Utah during its first two games of the 2020 campaign.

“A very similar storyline,” Whittingham said. “Ultimately, like it was in the first week with turnovers being the major problem that plagued us, turning the ball over four times (against Washington) and you just can’t do that. … You just don’t give yourself much of a chance.”