Utah quarterback Jon Hays spoke at length today about the need to get the ball out of his hand faster.
"That is what I am focusing on right now," he said.
USC boasts one of the best players in the nation when it comes to sacking quarterbacks in Morgan Breslin, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end. The junior is averaging 1.38 sacks a game, which leads the conference and ranks seventh nationally. He is also averaging 2.38 tackles for loss.
However, Hays doesn't just have to worry about him, his teammate and defensive end Leonard Williams ranks fifth in the conference in sacks (1.0) and defensive tackle George Uko ranks 13th (0.75).
No wonder Hays, who has been sacked eight times in the last two games, is worried about getting the ball out fast.
Compounding Utah's problems is the Utes will have a new guy starting at right guard in Siaosi Aiono, a redshirt freshman whose first playing experience came against the Sun Devils.
He is starting since Latu Heimuli and Vyncent Jones are out with injuries.
"It's out of necessity," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of the lineup change.
It's out of necessity too for Hays to get that ball out fast, or he could be in for another rough day.
Asked what Stanford did to beat USC 21-14, Whittingham pointed to the way Stanford's line played as well as the secondary.
"That was the biggest factor in the game," Whittingham said.
In contrast, Utah's defense gave up 21 first-quarter points to ASU, but the Utes believe they can perform better against the Trojans and worked on their miscues during the bye week.
Whittingham said the goal, as always, would be to stop the run first.
"I don't know if you can make them a one dimensional team," he said. "But we work hard every single week to control the run game."
Hindering the Utes against ASU was the absence of defensive end Joe Kruger and safety Eric Rowe. Rowe, who has missed two games with a hamstring injury, will play Thursday, Whittingham said. Kruger remains questionable.
With Oregon (No. 2), USC (No. 13), Oregon State (No. 14), Stanford (No. 18), Washington (No. 23) and UCLA (No. 25) all in the AP Top 25, Whittingham was asked about the depth and talent of the conference.
"I don't remember that in the Mountain West," he said with a laugh.
Whittingham added the talent the Pac-12 means Utah's transition to the level of play it has is a 'process.'
"I've said that from Day 1," he said. "The transition is not a 1-year deal. It's a process and we are going through the process. It's a very competitive league."
- Lya Wodraska
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