Are football coaches ever happy?
A year ago, when the Utes were looking for some offensive consistency, they would have been absolutely thrilled to put together a 21-play drive as they did against Northern Colorado.
Now Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wants to see fewer 2- and 3-yard gains and more quick-strike threats.
Translation: Utah State should prepare to have its secondary tested — and its defensive line, too. Neither the Utah passing game nor the run game was safe in Whittingham’s demand that the Utes make bigger plays.
Whittingham wants to see quarterback Jordan Wynn making more throws down field and said John White, who rushed for 119 yards on 24 carries in the opener, needs more breakaway runs.
Out of the 76 plays the Utes ran, 14 were for gains of 10 yards or more. Wynn’s longest throw was a 23-yarder to Jake Murphy in the second quarter, while White’s longest run went for 28 yards in the third quarter.
In between, the Utes had a bunch of little gains that were more than enough to rout the Bears, but not good enough to satisfy Whittingham, who knows his team must produce more in Pac-12 play.
“We’ve got to connect more on deep balls and stretch the defense and loosen things up,” Whittingham said. “To put together 10-, 12-, 14- or even 21-play drives is hard to do all the time.”
A lack of big plays was a problem for the Utes last year as well — particularly when Jon Hays filled in for the injured Wynn. However, Whittingham said he doesn’t feel there is a carryover into the 2012 season.
“Last year, we reeled things in by design,” he said. “For us to have a chance to win, we had to rely more heavily on the power game and John White. This year is totally different. There is no cause for panic or alarm, but having more explosiveness is something we have to have Friday night.”
Wynn, who was 19-of-27 for 200 yards, shouldered some of the blame.
“It’s a matter of me throwing it better or the wideouts doing something with it when they get the ball,” he said. “I missed two to DeVonte [Christopher] that would have counted as big plays, but collectively as an offense we have to find more ways to get the ball down field.”
The biggest miss in Wynn’s mind was, of course, that first-quarter interception of a pass intended for Dres Anderson.
“If I had thrown it 5 or 10 yards further, I would have been two for two with a touchdown instead of one for two with a pick,” he said. “That could have been a huge momentum swing, but I left it short.”
Passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick put that interception more on Anderson and his inability to win the ball than he did Wynn. But regardless of the fault, the Utes know they have to deliver bigger plays in the Pac-12.
The Utes averaged just 25 points last year, ranking just ninth in the league.
Big play bust?
The Utes ran 76 plays in their season opener, with just 14 going for 10 yards or more. Here is a breakdown of the biggest plays in the 41-0 win.
• White rush for 11 yards, drive ended in interception
Wynn to Dres Anderson for 14-yard gain, drive stalled at Utah’s 32
• Wynn to Jake Murphy for 13-yard gain, drive ended in TD
• Wynn to Murphy for 17-yard gain
• Wynn to Murphy for 10-yard gain
• Wynn to Anderson for 13-yard gain
• Wynn to Murphy for 23-yard gain
• Wynn to Anderson for 16-yard gain
• Wynn to Dallin Rogers for 11-yard gain
• White rush for 28 yards
• Anderson rush for 11 yards
• Wynn to Anderson for 10-yard gain
• Wilson to Kenneth Scott for 11-yard gain
• Willson to Reggie Dunn for 10-yard gain