The Utah Utes’ football season has been in a remodeling mode virtually from the beginning of the year thanks to injuries and personnel issues.
Now, almost halfway through the year, they finally feel they have a good foundation planted as they head into Saturday’s game against UCLA (4-2, 1-2) on a two-game losing streak.
The loss to USC hurt, but it wasn’t as discouraging as the blowout at Arizona State, the Utes (2-3, 0-2) said Monday.
A belief the changes being made to the offensive scheme plus some better individual play had the Utes in a much better mood than they were a week ago.
“We took a few steps forward in that SC game,” receiver Dres Anderson said. “We want to win more than anything and we feel like we are going into UCLA with confidence and prepared. We can do better.”
Offensively, the Utes must do a whole lot better.
The Utes’ offense ranks just 114th nationally and last in the Pac-12, averaging 299.4 yards a game, and is 88th in scoring, averaging just 24 points.
Of particular concern to the Utes are a lack of a running game and a poor third-down conversion rate.
The Utes are averaging only 105 yards a game on the ground this year and are 22-for-74 in third-down conversions.
Whittingham said the Utes need a better run game to get into more manageable third-down situations.
Against USC, just one of Utah’s 12 third downs was of 5 yards or less. Utah converted just three third downs, all in the second quarter.
“The first step in becoming a better third-down team is to get into some third and 4, 3, 2 situations rather than 6, 7, 8,” he said. “Secondly, you have to be better in the throw game.”
Quarterback Jon Hays took the blame for Utah’s third-down struggles.
“We have to keep the drive going alive,” he said. “You never know what can happen and we can’t have so many three and outs, especially in the second half. That seems to be when they are coming and we have to do better to get the game going.”
Utah believes it is making the changes necessary to see the improvement it wants. The offensive line was improved against USC and running back John White was healthier, although he rushed 13 times for 68 yards.
Schematically, Hays said he feels comfortable incorporating the spread elements offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is adding.
“We have a chance to be explosive, we just have to keep working at it,” Hays said. “I like what we are doing. We have a great game plan. It’s all about execution and cleaning up mistakes.”
Utah on third down
The Utes have converted just 22 of 74 third downs. Here is a look at how they’ve done game by game.
vs. Northern Colorado 9-for-15
vs. Utah State 2-for-17
vs. BYU 4-for-16
vs. ASU 4-for-14
vs. USC 3-for-12
Utah at UCLA
P Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • Ch. 13