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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utes comfortable with changes as they prepare for UCLA

Even though they've lost two games in a row, the Utes were in a decidedly much better mood Monday than they were a week ago after the blowout loss to Arizona State, thanks to the general belief they are moving in the right direction.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham spoke glowingly of senior offensive lineman Miles Mason, who is now slotted as the starting right guard and of the improvement the Utes made on offense.

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The Utes' offense ranks just 114th nationally and last in the Pac-12 averaging 299.4 yards a game, but offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is finding what schemes best fit the Utes, in Whittingham's eyes.

"We were more dynamic (against USC) and we should be that way the rest of the way," he said. "That is more of what we have to be."

Whittingham said the areas in which the Utes must continue to improve include third-down conversions and the run game. The Utes are averaging only 105 yards a game on the ground this year and are 22-for-74 in third down conversions.

"We still have to make more first downs, that is something that has to get corrected," he said.

Quarterback Jon Hays said the poor third-down conversion rate was on him, noting that part of his issue is he still has to get the ball out of his hand quicker.

To that end, Hays said he liked the adjustment the Utes are making on offense.

"We have a great game plan," he said. "It's all about execution and cleaning up mistakes."

Part of Utah's evolving offense will include freshman quarterback Travis Wilson. Whittingham said his role will 'escalate.'

"He did a nice job on that drive Thursday," he said. "We probably should have put him in sooner for a series or two."

As for the Bruins, Whittingham compared them to Arizona State since they have a new coach but are markedly improved.

"We have our work cut out for us," he said.

A problematic matchup for most teams is UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria. The 6-foot-7, 255-pounder has 16 catches for 200 yards and five touchdowns.

However, Whittingham believes Utah 6-5 defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly can defend him.

"It's tough to defend any guy that size no matter what the situation, but Trevor has a good chance to match up with him," he said.

- Lya Wodraska

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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