Now comes another real test for the Utah secondary.
Sure, the defensive backs performed well against BYU last Saturday. Yes, Utes safety Michael Walker picked up the first interception of the season for Utah against Taysom Hill. But that was against an offense that had issues in the throwing game.
So the question persists: Is this really an improved secondary, or is this a secondary that simply had the fortune of playing against the Cougars?
“I think we are getting better every day,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “The guys are competing. The guys are getting good reps back there, and they are learning, and that’s the biggest thing.”
The Utes will face Brett Hundley and UCLA next Thursday, but that’s just the beginning of the gauntlet. Over the next six weeks, Utah will not only see good quarterbacks. It will see NFL-caliber wide receivers, big tight ends that can run and offensive coordinators who know how to spot a weakness in a defense and exploit it.
The Bruins are just the latest challenge for a defense that’s struggled against wideouts who can make plays down the field this season. Shaq Evans presents matchup issues for anyone because of his size, speed and physical nature.
Whittingham said he’s still putting together a scheme, along with defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. So he doesn’t know who will start out on Evans.
“They are a challenge, but we’re working to get prepared for them,” Walker said. “I think the game we had with BYU gives us some confidence and I think we’re going to come out next week and play well.”
Getting work in
One advantage of the bye week is that extra attention can be paid to the developmental guys. Coaches had the younger players scrimmage at the end of Thursday’s practice. Freshman Troy McCormick was a standout, bursting through the line and running for a long touchdown. Rookie cornerbacks Brandon Cox and Conner Manning received extensive reps as well.
Preparing for the rush
Quarterback Travis Wilson said he’s well aware of UCLA rush linebacker Anthony Barr and the problems he can cause off the edge. Wilson said he’s prepared to have a quick release and that the Bruin defense is fast and aggressive.
“They like to fly around and make plays,” Wilson said. “So we have to be ready for that. We’re going to have to prepare well. It’s a very good defense.”