Star Lotulelei acknowledged that the Utah defense took its cleats off the gas a little Thursday after helping the Utes jump to a 14-0 lead against USC, mainly because it felt the game was under control.
Apparently, the all-Pac-12 defensive tackle and future NFL Draft pick hasn’t been paying much attention to Utah’s offensive production. If he had, he would have known that a two-touchdown lead against one of the best teams in the nation wasn’t nearly enough.
While Utah’s offense had its moments, and even made some progress in the 38-28 loss to No. 13 USC, it is still a long way from where it needs to be, according to coach Kyle Whittingham.
The Utes struggled, especially in the second half, when they managed just 44 of their 95 rushing yards and 77 of their 209 passing yards. And most of that productivity came on their final drive of the game, when Travis Wilson replaced starting quarterback Jon Hays with 5:19 to go.
Wilson completed 4 of 6 passes for 49 yards, including a 31-yard pass to DeVonte Christopher, to lead Utah on its final scoring drive, which ended with a 5-yard run by Kelvin York.
That drive was the only time the Utes crossed midfield in the second half, converting just three of their 12 third downs. With numbers like those, 14 points wasn’t enough for the Utes to be comfortable against any team — particularly one as explosive as USC.
Searching for answers, the Utes plan to open things up even more against UCLA. Whittingham said Friday the Utes would add more elements of the spread offense that they showed against USC, such as the shovel pass, which was effective.
“That is the direction we are headed,” he said. “It suits us better than what we were doing early on. We have a pretty deep core of receivers and we need to get them more on the field.”
Wilson will also start to see more snaps and is comfortable with the spread offense, even more than Hays, Whittingham said.
“He is ready to get more snaps,” said Whittingham. “Travis has made more progress this fall and we’ll put him in.”
Hays will remain the starting quarterback, Whittingham said.
“I thought he was exceptionally sharp throwing the ball in the first half, but not the second,” Whittingham noted. “We got Kenneth Scott involved and the tight ends, so we did some good things offensively.”
Still, despite the progress that Whittingham sees, the Utes’ offense is performing worse than it did a year ago, when it struggled due to the quarterback situation, since the playbook had to be limited for Hays.
The Utes don’t have that excuse this season, not with Hays having a year behind him and more playmakers around him.
The Utes are averaging 299.4 yards of total offense — fewer than they were a year ago when they averaged 310.85 — with the most difficult part of their schedule remaining.
Christopher said the answer is simply more practice time and studying.
“We always practice hard, but we have to use our time more efficiently and get in the film room,” he said. “You can correct a lot of mistakes by knowing what the defense is doing.”
In the meantime, Whittingham continued to preach patience.
“We did some good things and played hard,” he said. “It was a better effort than we had in the last few weeks, so we are heading in the right direction.”
Utah’s struggling offense
Utah’s offense struggled even through the easy part of its schedule. What it’s averaging compared to last year:
Rushing 137.62 111.8
Passing 173.23 194.4
Total 310.85 299.4
Points 25 24
Utah at UCLA
P Oct. 13, 1 p.m.
TV • Ch. 13