Kyle Whittingham Believes Utah’s Young Defense Is ‘Further Ahead Than Expected’

Dec 7, 2020, 12:57 PM
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)...
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Through three games this season, head coach Kyle Whittingham has been impressed with his defense.

Going into the season, Whittingham thought the offense would be far ahead of the defense because of the youth on the defensive side of the ball after losing 9 starters from last season. Through three games in 2020, Whittingham is very pleased with the progress of his defense.

“Yeah, it hasn’t played out as I thought it would, defense seems to be much more productive and further ahead than any of us thought,” Whittingham said. “We’re not quite as productive on offense as we need to be right now. In fact, we’ve got a ways to go. Really proud of the defense and particularly the way that the secondary has performed so far.”

Pleased With Young Secondary

The secondary for Utah is very young. Every starter never had a Division I, Power-5 start in their career before the 2020 campaign. Utah is starting their highest rated recruit Clark Phillips III at one of the two outside cornerback positions, Lone Peak star Nate Ritchie is starting at safety and JaTravis Broughton is getting his chance to shine as a starting corner.

Over the last two weeks, Phillips has stepped in and played the nickel position against Washington and the second half against Oregon State. The original starter Malone Mataele was not available for the Washington game two weeks ago and was ejected in the second quarter versus Oregon State for targeting.

Whittingham is impressed with Phillips being able to step in and play nickel. He also is pleased with the other true freshmen in the secondary.

“Did a great job and given the circumstances and being thrust in there and having not a lot of practice reps,” Whittingham mentioned. “We always try to keep them tuned up during the week with a few reps at nickel just in case. We learned on Friday before the Washington game that we wouldn’t have Malone (Mataele) so he (Clark Phillips) had 24 hour notice that he was going to be playing nickel and then this last game obviously it was in game when when the change needed to be made. Clark has been a very good player for us so far this year only three games in but him, Faybian Marks and Nate Ritchie, all three of those true freshmen kids have done a good job and we’re excited about the future.”

Whittingham Originally Thought Offense Would Carry Defense This Season

During fall camp, Kyle Whittingham thought that their offense would potentially carry the defense this season. With so many starters from the defensive side of the ball in 2019 graduating or going to the NFL, mixed in with an experienced offense with many talented skill players, Whittingham thought the offense would be better this season.

“The offense is further ahead than the defense. It was apparent in the scrimmage last week. It was very apparent in practice yesterday,” Whittingham said on October 23. “We had two live sessions about 20 snaps each so about 40 snaps total of live work yesterday was the offense definitely got the best of things. I would say that’s to be expected we got a lot of returning starters on offense. Obviously the quarterback situation is being determined as well as the running back situation but there’s a lot of experienced guys on offense in the second year under Andy’s (Ludwig) system. Players feel very comfortable and he’s taking it to another level. He’s expanded upon what he put in last year and built upon the concepts that we had last year and so there’s a lot of confidence right now on offense, they’re playing fast, the execution level is very good. We hope it continues. They may need to carry us the first part of the season, maybe the whole season, we’ll find out but it’s definitely where our experience lies on this football team is on the offensive side.”

Keep in mind, Utah’s offense has been faced with many challenges to start the season. They lost starting QB Cameron Rising for the season after just 14 snaps against USC in their season opener. Britain Covey, Samson Nacua and Bryan Thompson have been in and out of the lineup as well through the first three games.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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