Utah-BYU week is supposed to be about Red vs. Blue, the team on the hill vs. the team down south, and so forth.
But for the Utah Utes all the fun that goes with rivalry week has been replaced with a desperate need of self-repair.
Utah’s 27-20 overtime loss to Utah State exposed weaknesses that must be fixed if the Utes have any plans of contending for a Pac-12 title, never mind beating their biggest rival.
While the Utes never thought a win over Utah State was guaranteed, they never imagined they’d self-destruct in so many ways as they did against the Aggies. Now they face a BYU team undoubtably hungry to avenge last year’s 54-10 loss in Provo.
Suffice it to say it will be a busy week on the hill for the Utes.
“We have a lot of things we need to fix,” Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher said. “We’ve got to get in the film room and correct the offense, special teams, everything.”
Of primary concern has to be Utah’s offense. The Utes lost quarterback Jordan Wynn to an injury in the second quarter of the loss in Logan, but his absence can hardly be blamed for the Utes’ struggles, since they managed just 15 yards in their first 14 plays.
By the time Jon Hays took the field as Wynn’s replacement at the end of the first half, the Aggies were ahead 13-0 and had all the momentum on their side.
“It’s all about the offense starting fast,” running back John White said. “We have to execute better. The defense held their own [against Utah State] but the offense and special teams have to play better. We have to come out on the first possession and score.”
Instead of thinking about scoring, the Utes spent much of the first half against Utah State trying to keep Wynn and Hays off the turf.
Wynn was sacked three times and hurried on several other plays as Utah’s offensive line failed to protect him.
The Utes moved guard Sam Brenner to left tackle, which helped, but the lackluster play obviously remains a concern.
“We were giving up too many sacks,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We have to figure out how to get the best five on the field to protect the quarterback.”
Hays, who did a better job than Wynn of evading tacklers, is expected to start against the Cougars in place of the injured Wynn.
His challenge not only is leading the Utes’ offense, but making sure his teammates have their focus on the Cougars and don’t spend the week dwelling on the loss to the Aggies.
“It was definitely a tough loss, a huge loss in state, but we’ve got to bounce back,” he said. “It is what it is and we have to get back to work and get ready for BYU.”
Utah defender Trevor Reilly likened Utah’s circumstances to last year, when Utah lost a heartbreaker at USC then beat the Cougars the next week.
“We were able to rebound last year and take care of business,” he said. “That is what we have to do this year.”