Utah’s Defense Challenged In Second Half Of USC Game To Play To Their Potential

Oct 18, 2022, 4:12 PM
Utah vs. USC...
USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) is sacked by Utah Utes defensive end Gabe Reid (91) as Utah and USC play at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY- It’s no secret that Utah’s defense hasn’t quite performed the way fans are used to in 2022. That’s not to say they haven’t had their moments, but those moments haven’t been as consistent as they have been in years past.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in the only media availability for the Utes this week that the defense was challenged in the second half of their matchup with USC last Saturday to play to their potential, and while still not perfect, rose to the occasion.

“We sat them down and told them, ‘Hey, you are good players, start playing like you’re capbable of,'” Whittingham said. “I think Morgan [Scalley] changed up the calls a little bit and simplified things just a little. I thought he called some very timely blitzes in the second half that really paid off and then our offense- I think we made 31 or 32 first downs? That’s huge because that means you have the ball and they don’t.”

First Versus Second Half Stats After Utah’s Defense Challenged

In the first half of the USC game there was no doubt Utah’s defense was being torched by Trojan quarterback Caleb Williams and his stable of receivers. By halftime the Trojans had already amassed 364 yards of offense off of 42 plays. Williams was 16 of 27 for 249 yards through the air and three touchdowns.

After Utah’s halftime pep talk, the Utes held USC to just 192 total yards of offense off of 27 plays in the second half. Williams was just nine of 15 passing for 132 yards and two more touchdowns in the last half of the game.

While the stats look drastically better for the defense in the second half versus the first half, cornerback Clark Phillips III noted the Trojans were a difficult team to defend for four quarters due to their personnel and their ability to improvise at a moment’s notice.

“I would say the different styles of plays, their ability to adjust on the fly,” Phillips III said. “I mean, they made in-game adjustments that were really, really good. Also, just, that type of quarterback- his style- we said it before the game, he can play, and their receivers are really good as well.”

Aside from the coaches pointing out to the defense that they were capable of playing better, senior leadership also played a part. Safety RJ Hubert was credited with keeping the unit united despite some mishaps and encouraging everyone to give their best effort out of the half.

“When you get down like that and things are- it looks like it’s somebody’s fault in particular- it’s easy to start turning on each other,” Hubert said. “That’s what a good team will do to you and if you aren’t a good team yourself, you’ll fall apart and start pointing fingers. You won’t be united as one.”

“What I was just saying,” Hubert continued. “Is, ‘Look, some of us have made mistakes already, and we might make mistakes here in the next half, but it’s important now more than ever to stick together as a unit’. That’s what makes a team, rather than a group of players is just sticking together when things get tough.”


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