Utes need to improve passing defense heading into Washington State game


Utes gave up 351 yards and three touchdown passes to USC

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah defense came into the season with one of the top secondaries in the Pac-12.

But last Friday, USC third-string quarterback Matt Fink and a trio of NFL-caliber wide receivers, torched the Utes.

Fink threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns, as the Trojans handed the Utes their first loss of the season, 30-23.

“They just made more plays than we did,” said Utes defensive back Jaylon Johnson. “We weren’t in position to make the plays, we weren’t playing with the right technique and right fundamentals. They made the plays and we didn’t.”

Head coach Kyle Whittingham doesn’t think this kind of performance will become a pattern.

“We believe in that secondary,” Whittingham said. “We don’t think the sky is falling. There are some things we’re doing well, but playing the deep ball on Friday night was not one of them.”

This Saturday, the most prolific passing attack in the entire nation comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium in Washington State.

Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon leads the country in passing yards and touchdowns, and just threw for 9 TD’s in a 67-63 loss to UCLA on Saturday.

“They do it better than anyone in the country, as far as throwing the football,” Whittingham said. “There is nothing that we’re going to do defensively that is going to surprise them. They’ve seen it all. They’ve seen every imaginable way to try to defend them.”

“We didn’t dominate,” Johnson said about the USC game. “So, we get another chance on Saturday to try to redeem ourselves.”

After suffering a shoulder injury against USC, running back Zack Moss’ status is a mystery, and Kyle Whittingham isn’t giving us any clues.

“Why would you ever tip your hand to the opponent?” Whittingham asked. “That would make no sense at all. Until college football has an injury report rule or whatever, we just won’t do it. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

If Moss can’t go, look for a trio of backs in Devin Brumfield, Jordan Wilmore and Devontae Henry-Cole to shoulder the load.

“We prepare every week like we’re going to be the guy,” said Brumfield, who had 63 yards rushing on 10 carries and a fumble against USC. “We just always have it in our mind that we have to be the next guy up whenever our name is called. So, we’re definitely going to be ready.”

“When you have a weapon like that taken away, it certainly is going to have an impact” Whittingham said about the potential loss of Moss. “But as I said after the game, there are no excuses. You’ve just got to have the next guy come in and pick up the slack.”

Even though Washington State scored 63 points against UCLA, the Cougars defense gave up 67 points, so Tyler Huntley and company may have a big night.

“We’ve still got to go out there and play a game,” said Huntley, who has yet to throw an interception this season. “We can’t worry about what somebody else did on them. It’s a new game and they come out to play a different type of way against us.”

Despite the loss to the Trojans, the Utes are still in position to right the ship and make a run at a Pac-12 South title. Last year, the Utes lost its first two conference games, and still won the division.

“There’s no panic setting in,” Whittingham said. “It’s one game into conference play. We didn’t get it done, but we’ve got to move on. I don’t believe anyone in the South will go undefeated. So that being said, we’re obviously still in the hunt. We’re just one game in.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

How to Help During the Holidays

More Toys for Tots