Kyle Whittingham: SC This Week, It Doesn’t Get Any Easier
SALT LAKE CITY- The Utes came up short in their big Top 25 matchup with UCLA last weekend and head coach Kyle Whittingham noted it doesn’t get any easier for his team with SC rolling into town. In his Monday press conference Whittingham acknowledged there are things to be fixed- specifically on defense and special teams if Utah wants to make a run at its second Pac-12 Title. Whittingham also knows those fixes need to happen now ahead of a game that quite literally could determine what the 2022 season ends up being for the Utes.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) October 10, 2022
It Doesn’t Get Any Easier
USC currently sits at 6-0 on the season and ranked #7 in the country. Led by first season head coach Lincoln Riley, the Trojans have made a massive turnaround from where they were this time last season. While USC is clearly in a better spot than they were the season before, Utah finds themselves in a very similar situation to the 2021 season.
The Utes are standing at a fork in the road where one path leads to disappointment, while the other path could lead excitement and new heights. Once again that path runs through the Trojans and the Utes need to figure out how to be ready.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Whittingham said. “We have them at home at Rice-Eccles which is a big plus. Our guys really enjoy playing at home and the home crowd gives us a big advantage. We find ourselves in a very similar situation as we did last year. It’s very similar and we handled it well last year. We will see if we can handle it well this year.”
The Trojans have received a lot of praise for how quarterback Caleb Williams and their receivers have played, and rightfully so. However, USC has also been coming along defensively according to Whittingham, upping the challenge facing the Utes on Saturday.
“Really good front four,” Whittingham said. “They lead the nation in sacks and get after the quarterback. Their secondary is always athletic. You can look at any year for the last 50 years and they have had great athletes back there. Between the secondary and the way the front’s been playing, that’s really the reason they’ve found success.”
Of course, talking about prepping for USC without giving Williams his due would be negligent at best. Much like Utah quarterback Cam Rising, Williams has been playing at a very high and efficient level to this point in 2022 with it being a neck and neck race between those two and UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson as the top signal caller in the league.
“Great quarterback, him and Cam are very close as far as statistically,” Whittingham said. “Looking at QBR efficiency, he’s thrown for more yards than Cam has per game, but you look at the efficiency rating and the QBR and Cam’s ahead. DTR is the number one QBR quarterback in our league now. Cam is right behind- they are #6 and #7 and Caleb is four or five spots behind them so he’s doing a good job just like Cam is. He’s got a bunch of receivers to throw to. They are as deep and as talented a receiving corps as there maybe is in the country.”
Improving Some Of Utah’s Deficiencies
Hosting a big-time opponent means there is more urgency than ever to get some of the things that went wrong against UCLA last weekend back on track. Perhaps the most glaring concern is Utah’s front seven and containing the run game while also getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“We need to get more pressure on the quarterback,” Whittingham said. “One of our issues is we are not getting enough pressure with a four-man rush. We got to bring pressure with five or more to get to the quarterback and that’s been a concern and on-going problem through the first half of the season.”
The other concern facing the Utes is getting touchbacks in the kick return game. Early on, Utah has failed to kick the ball out of the end zone with any consistency and it’s allowed opponents to gain more yards than Whittingham is comfortable with on special teams.
“Ideally, we’d like to have every kickoff be a touchback,” Whittingham said. “Not have to worry about the return, put the ball on the 25. Right now, we are better off kicking it out of bounds and putting it at the 35 because teams have been getting past the 35 with regularity. It’s a definite concern.”
On the more nit-picky side, the Utes were not as tough as they typically have been on the offensive line this past weekend. While not really an on-going problem so far this season, it is something Whittingham would like to have shored up to face USC’s improved front-four.
“We had some breakdowns on Saturday that we don’t like to see,” Whittingham said. “We had a couple of sacks, but overall, I’d say the offensive line is playing efficiently- B+ if you want to put a grade on it. We’re not giving up excessive sacks, we’re running the ball effectively. I think we are third in the league? We’re doing some good things at offensive line.”
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