There is a need to tell the truth about the University of Utah’s football team after its overtime loss late Saturday/early Sunday at Arizona State.
At 6-2 the Utes’ record is better than most thought it would be at this point in the season. Even in the wake of their 19-16 loss to ASU, they’re having a good year and a bowl game seems all but assured.
But those successes aside, there is an uneasy feeling about Utah’s offense and how it is being handled by head coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. As the No. 20-ranked Utes look ahead to an exciting matchup with No. 5 Oregon this weekend at Rice-Eccles Stadium, it’s obvious there is some confusion regarding what’s wrong with the offense – specifically the “throw game” as Whittingham calls it – and how to fix it.
At the coach’s weekly press conference Monday, the main emerging storylines were: No. 1, why was the passing game so lousy against the Sun Devils? No. 2, what is being done to rectify the aforementioned lousiness? And No. 3, is the play-calling contributing to quarterback Travis Wilson’s inefficiencies or are his inefficiencies hampering the play-calling?
Whatever it is – however to fix it – it’s an ongoing issue and one that appears to have Whittingham flummoxed.
Filed under H for “huh?” is this a little fact: According to Utah’s two-deep depth chart, Wilson and fellow junior Kendal Thompson are once again listed as equals.
“It’s a competition this week,” Whittingham said. “It’s opened back up so we’ll have them compete in practice and see what transpires and go with the guy that we feel is going to give us the best chance to win.”
From there it was more questions from the media and the predictable, no-foolin’-around responses from the coach.
However, at one point Whittingham said the Utes simply need to do a better job throwing the ball down field rather than relying on little dump-offs and short range passes.
Against the Sun Devils, ASU’s defense brought a lot of pressure at Wilson. Whittingham was clear in his belief that the way to stop those all-out blitzes is to “hit some shots down the field.”
“That’s the only way to get a team out of that, is to make ‘em pay for it by getting over the top a few times and we didn’t do that,” he added.
That brought up the obvious question: Why not?
To that, Whittingham referred directly to Christensen, the latest in a long succession of offensive coordinators.
“Dave maybe didn't feel comfortable that we were getting the separation that we could get over the top on them,” he said. “When you crease them on a run, when they are bringing all that pressure, it's out of the gate. There is more than one way to beat a blitz, but based on our strengths and what we are doing well, I think that Dave felt that the best way to try to take advantage of that is to get (running back Devontae) Booker a crease up the middle. But at some point we have to throw the ball over the top.”
That, folks, sounds like a miscommunication – or at least a disconnect – between the head coach and the offensive coordinator and it’s not the first time it has happened at the U. In fact, it has happened often in recent years.
Whittingham is a no-excuses kind of guy and that’s a good thing. But whether it’s injuries, dropped passes by the receivers, bad passes from Wilson/Thompson or play calling so conservative it’s two steps right of Rush Limbaugh, there are too many questions and not enough answers.
What the Utes need is a clear, unambiguous plan that will be followed with exactness. Whittingham’s job depends on it and as the head coach it’s his job to solve this problem.
Something tells me he began addressing it Monday afternoon, shortly after his press conference ended.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo