Whittingham Positive About Utes, Acknowledges Things To Improve
SALT LAKE CITY- The Utes have now played in three straight big games with all eyes on them and they haven’t disappointed despite two close losses. Utah is showing they can hang with anyone and that they are on the cusp of being great, however, there is work to be done to make that happen.
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Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was very positive about the team he has in 2022 during his weekly press conference after a heartbreaking season opening loss to Florida. Whittingham is high on his team’s talent, grit, and no-quit attitude in the face of adversity that won them a conference championship last season, was three points away from winning their first Rose Bowl as well a ridiculously tough road match against the Gators. However, despite the positives Utah has to work with, Whittingham acknowledges areas they need to continue to improve in order to come out the winner and not just close in some of those contests.
Whittingham Looking To Improve
There was a lot to really love about Utah’s offense against Florida Saturday night. Quarterback Cam Rising was highly efficient with a 70% completion rate despite the game ending interception according to Whittingham. Tight end Brant Kuithe kept Florida on their toes all night, and running back Tavion Thomas was relentless in the run game, sometimes taking a few Gator’s players for a ride. Whittingham was also really happy with his offensive line, giving them a solid B+ for a first outing against a tough opponent. The one area that needs to improve? Red zone efficiency- something Whittingham noted the Utes were really good at last season.
“Had we been productive in the red zone we would have won the game,” Whittingham said. “I don’t think there is any doubt about that. We were in the red zone six times and only came away with three touchdowns and that’s not good enough. That was really the biggest difference in the game.”
Defensively was a different story for Whittingham, and perhaps rightfully so since he’s made his name off of always bringing a stout defense that smothers the opposition’s run game like clockwork. That wasn’t the case in Saturday’s debut and will be a major point of emphasis for the Utes moving through the season.
“We weren’t very good on defense,” Whittingham said. “That’s the bottom line. We were far too soft in the run game. Missed too many tackles, not good enough in the red zone and that was really disappointing to see our defense not play as well as we know they are capable of. We’ve got to coach them better, it starts with us as coaches.”
Of particular concern with the defense was the starting front seven and not finishing tackles. According to Whittingham the defensive line and linebackers missed a total of 27 tackles in Saturday’s contest which is not an acceptable number by Utah’s standards.
“We watched the tape, our run defense was just abysmal,” Whittingham said. “We gave up nearly 300 yards rushing. Didn’t gap control well, didn’t take on blocks well. Didn’t do anything well. Didn’t tackle well. There wasn’t anything we did of value in the run defense. The throw game didn’t- I mean they were efficient with it, but 160 yards is very pedestrian in this day and age of college football. It was the run game that really did us in.”
Whittingham On Travel Woes
To add a little insult to injury coming off a heartbreaking loss that came down to an interception in the red zone, the Utes were delayed getting home. Early Sunday it was reported the team never left Gainesville due to mechanical issues with their plane. Ultimately, Utah didn’t land in Salt Lake City till around 7:30 pm MT on Sunday and didn’t get fully settled back home till later. It was a situation that Whittingham could only describe as “nightmarish”.
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“In my 30-plus years of coaching that was the most nightmarish situation I’ve ever come across,” Whittingham said. “We’ll leave it at that. It was one thing after another and we didn’t get home till late last night- well, not real late, but 8:30ish I believe. I feel bad for the players because we played a physical game- any game is physical, but especially that one and you have no time to rest or recover. You’re sitting on a bus, you’re sitting on a plane, sitting in a terminal and I felt bad for those guys. Coaches, we can deal with it, but the players unfortunately had to go through that.”
Home, Sweet Home
While the opponent may not be as exciting as the Florida Gators, Whittingham says the team is really looking forward to their home opener against Southern Utah University. Rice-Eccles Stadium is always rocking for their team and it’s the perfect pick-me-up after a tough battle that didn’t go Utah’s way.
“We have to get ready to play this week,” Whittingham said. “It’s a typical game week in-season schedule. We’ll go out and do some walk-through stuff today and then put the pads back on tomorrow and get after it. It’s going to be great playing in front of our home crowd at Rice-Eccles. It’s always something to look forward to. 11:30 kickoff which is great. Just a lot of football left as we all know. I like this team a lot and I think we can win a bunch of games this year.”
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