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Utah football: Utes don't have answers for offensive struggles

Published November 12, 2013 12:38 am

Utah football • The Utes are averaging 15.3 points per game over their last three contests.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Whether it's by air, ground or some other manner, the Utah Utes really don't care. All they know is they have to find a way to score more points.

Everyone by now knows Utah's offense is struggling, and there are many reasons why.

It could be the lack of an experienced tight end, the lack of a consistent run game, bad protection from the offensive line and an ailing quarterback, both mentally and physically.

In the end, it doesn't really matter why Utah's offense has gone from terrific to in the tank.

What counts is finding a way to score points. If the Utes (4-5, 1-5) don't, it's doubtful they'll achieve their goal of reaching bowl eligibility or delivering an upset against No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 5-1) when the teams play Saturday in Eugene.

Unfortunately, the Utes still don't have many answers as to how to breathe life into the offense, other than playing better than they did in Saturday's loss, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday.

"It wasn't any one particular player," Whittingham said. "Everyone took turns across the board. We weren't good at any position on offense. It was one of those days where nothing was going well for us on that side of the ball."

Saturday's feeble effort, like the ones in the preceding weeks, isn't what the Utes imagined their offense would look like at this point in the season.

Utah co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson estimated before the season began that Utah would have to average about 30 points a game to be successful in the Pac-12.

The Utes hit that target early on, averaging 37 points through the first six games. Granted that number was skewed by a 70-7 win over Weber State, but Utah's offense was at least effective enough that Utah started the season 4-2, with the upset over Stanford and an overtime loss to Oregon State among the results.

Utah's productiveness since then has been cut by more than half in some areas, with the Utes averaging only 15.3 points and 259 yards of offense in the last three games.

Quarterback Travis Wilson's hand injury played a part in the initial struggles, but both Wilson and Whittingham insisted the hand wasn't an issue Saturday when Wilson rarely went to the air in the Utes' 20-19 loss to Arizona State.

Wilson finished the game 6 of 21 for 121 yards but had so little time to throw that Whittingham said he couldn't even evaluate the quarterback.

Wilson said he feels the loss of tight ends Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga have hurt his options, but the quarterback said the Utes have to find a way to improve a passing game that has averaged a mere 136 yards in the last three outings.

"Obviously we're struggling with it," he said. "Something has got to get better."

The one change the Utes do plan to make is using right tackle Isaac Asiata more after he graded out well in his effort Saturday.

But it's doubtful that tweak alone can translate into a dramatic change come Saturday, when the Utes take on what Whittingham said is as strong a secondary as he has seen.

Unfortunately, there aren't any easy solutions for the Utes.

"As a whole offense we have to do a better job," Wilson said. "We have to make bigger plays we've been lacking, and we have to stay consistent as well." —

Offense then and now

First 6 games

Rushing offense • 192.5

Passing offense • 277.7

Total offense • 470.2

Scoring offense • 37.0

Sacks allowed • 8

Avg. first downs • 22.3

Third-down conversions • 27 of 81

Last 3

Rushing offense • 123.0

Passing offense • 136.0

Total offense • 259.0

Scoring offense • 15.3

Sacks allowed • 13

Avg. first downs • 13.7

Third-down conversions • 16 of 53