Heft is normally good for a football team, but in the case of the Utah Utes, slimming down is apparently the way to go.
The Utes (3-5, 1-4) used a smaller playbook in their 49-27 win over Cal and will continue to focus on a few key aspects as they get ready to host Washington State (2-6, 0-5), Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday.
“We streamlined the package a bit,” he said. “It wasn’t as voluminous as in the past. We honed in on a few concepts and really hammered those rather than have as much offense available as we had before. With less I think it was good for our players to get better at a few things then have as much on their plate. Not that we had a ton; it was pretty typical of what most offenses carry. But we did scale it back.”
One of the biggest changes in mindset was focusing on running in the red zone. Utah’s four rushing touchdowns on Saturday matched its previous season’s total.
The Utes rushed eight times and only passed twice in the red zone against the Bears.
Veteran John White rushed 22 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while backup Kelvin York rushed 11 times for 51 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an ankle sprain.
Quarterback Travis Wilson also scored on a 5-yard run.
“We wanted to be more direct and downhill and give it to the backs and let them hammer it in there rather than get to the perimeter and throw the ball,” Whittingham said.
“It was a little more of a smashmouth approach of, ‘OK we are down here, we are going to run the ball now and make them stop us’ mentality, and it was effective for us,” he added.
While the Utes plan to maintain the same mentality going forward, they may not have York’s bruising abilities to help them.
Whittingham wouldn’t divulge any details on York’s injury, but did say how many carries White gets against Washington State will depend on York’s status.
“If Kelvin is available, the carries become a little more evenly split as we talked about last week. But if Kelvin is not there, John may have to pack the ball 30 or 32 times,” Whittingham said. “We will see what happens, but we know his track record and what he is capable of, and it’s not something he can’t handle; he has handled it in the past.”
Utah is 10-0 when White rushes for 100 yards or more.
The Utes decided to cut back on the playbook after their 21-7 loss at Oregon State, when they failed to finish long drives.
“We went back to the things we were doing well in fall camp,” receiver Reggie Dunn said. “We’re doing the things we own and things we can do good instead of piling a bunch of stuff on us or game-planning for certain players.”
Quarterback Travis Wilson said the run-focused offense helped open his passing game. Helping him too was the presence of offensive coordinator Brian Johnson on the sidelines.
“Before it was difficult because he wasn’t there in front of me,” Wilson said. “I like it a lot better. I like being face-to-face with him better.”
Johnson will remain on the sidelines for future games and passing coordinator Aaron Roderick will be the eyes in the box, Whittingham said.
The Utes are making a more concerted effort to run the ball. Here is how the plays have broken down in their games this year.
Opponent Run plays Pass plays Result
Northern Colorado 47 29 W, 41-0
Utah State 35 32 L, 27-20 (OT)
BYU 35 27 W, 24-21
ASU 38 16 L, 37-7
USC 22 38 L, 38-28
UCLA 27 35 L, 21-14
OSU 45 28 L, 21-7
California 45 24 W, 49-27
Washington State at Utah
P Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network