PK: Penn State Coaches Compliment Utah With Big Ten Comparisons

Dec 30, 2022, 11:25 AM
A general view of during Rose Bowl Stadium during a the Rose Bowl game between the Utah Utes and the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was effusive in his praise for Utah’s offense, repeatedly admiring the two-time Pac-12’s overall toughness.

“They do a great job of just questioning your toughness down after down, the way they pound the football,” Diaz said during Friday’s media session.

Diaz echoed the sentiments of Penn State’s offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, saying Utah’s style is similar to the way Big Ten teams play. As examples, Diaz point to Utah’s desire to huddle after most plays, always intends to establish a rushing attack and is comfortable playing low-scoring games.

The Pac-12 traditionally plays a more open style of play compared to the Big Ten, which authored the phrase “three yards and a cloud of dust” for its reliance on a strong run game. But, as Diaz notes, Utah under coach Kyle Whittingham often features an excellent running attack with the pass sprinkled in.

“Certainly, Utah the last two years has been the toughest team in this league,” he said.  “It’s no surprise that it’s gotten them to back-to-back Rose bowls.”

Diaz offered up superlatives in describing quarterback Cam Rising, who has led the Utes to consecutive Pac-12 championships. To him, a quarterback’s leadership skills go a long way toward a team’s success.

“When your quarterback is tough, your entire offense is tough. Just by the nature of the game, the guy touches the ball every play, so everybody on the sideline is watching your quarterback. When he can demonstrate that he’s tough, everybody’s level of toughness picks up,” Diaz said.

“Utah has belief. They believe in their leader. Why wouldn’t they, because of the way he plays the game. When they need a play, whether it’s a two-point conversion in the first match-up against Southern Cal, they’re going to call his number. He’s demonstrated with pretty routine effectiveness that he’s going to deliver.”

No Clark Phillips This Time For Utes

Utah went into last year’s Rose Bowl battered by injuries in the defensive secondary and were forced to play running back Micah Bernard at cornerback. The results were predictably ugly, with Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud passing for a school-record 573 yards and a school-tying six touchdowns.

The Utes are healthy this season but still won’t have their full complement of players. All-American cornerback Clark Phillips has opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL draft. His absence is not lost on Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

“You’ve got to make sure that if there is anywhere on the field that you feel you have an advantage, you’d better make sure that you target that,” Yurcich said. “A lot of our offense is based on pure progressions, and so if one guy is double-covered we go to the guy that’s one-on-one.”

Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley fully expects Penn State to try to exploit the side of the field that Phillips normally would close off. But he’s also confident in starting cornerbacks Zemaiah Vaughn and JaTravis Broughton.

Phillips, who attended high school about 20 miles from the Rose Bowl site in Pasadena, is expected to be a high draft choice.

“I’m excited for his future, I really am,” said Scalley. “He’s a kid that sacrificed a lot, that gave us everything he had while he was here. More power to him.”

Rose Bowl Odds and Ends

Both head coaches were assistants early in their careers at Idaho State. James Franklin spent the 1999 season in Pocatello as the receivers coach. Whittingham was with the Bengals from 1988-1993, serving first as the linebackers and special teams coach before being the defensive coordinator his final two seasons. . . . The Nittany Lions, who are making their fifth appearance in the Rose Bowl, first played in the game 100 years ago in 1923. . . .  The two teams have never played each other. For Penn State, this is the third consecutive bowl game in which it is playing an opponent for the first time. The other two opponents were Arkansas in the Outback Bowl and Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.

Follow PK on Twitter here for analysis and insight from the 2023 Rose Bowl and beyond.

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PK: Penn State Coaches Compliment Utah With Big Ten Comparisons