Kragthorpe: Utes' Chow, Wynn get 'abysmal' reviews
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn just kept shaking his head Thursday night while family members and friends tried to console him with smiles as they walked across the end zone and out of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Witnessing the scene, quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson called Wynn over, gave him a quick hug and advised him to move on from the season opener, saying, "It's over."
Yeah, this was one disappointing victory for Wynn and the Ute offense.
After all the wondering about Wynn's recovery and all the anticipation of what offensive coordinator Norm Chow would bring to Utah, the reviews were decidedly unfavorable following a 27-10 win over Montana State that could only be described as unsatisfying.
"Abysmal" was coach Kyle Whittingham's word of choice for the Ute passing game. That's not exactly the return he expects from his investment in Chow, whose offseason availability triggered a shake-up of the offensive staff.
Whittingham said what everybody had to be thinking: If Utah's offense looks like this all season, this Pac-12 stuff might not be much fun at all.
The coach blamed Chow's play-calling and Wynn's throwing mechanics for the Utes' meager 101 passing yards not Wynn's surgically repaired right shoulder, which held up sufficiently, even after he took a blindside hit in the first half.
His shoulder might be healed, but he still looked shaky, apparently not having moved beyond the booing and benching he absorbed at home last November.
Wynn missed some short passes early in the game and later underthrew Reggie Dunn in the end zone, enabling a Bobcat defender to deflect the ball.
The Utes were not wholly conservative; it was not as though they were saving everything for USC and BYU in September. Chow called a reverse and a fourth-and-1 bootleg and Whittingham authorized a fake punt, all executed successfully in the first half. So what was missing?
Just any evidence that Wynn can deliver the ball downfield and stretch defenses, which will become critical.
The inside running of John White, who gained 150 yards, and Wynn's short passes to his tight ends, formerly forgotten in Utah's scheme, are the staples of the West Coast offense that Chow installed. That stuff worked well enough against the Bobcats but is not exactly material that should scare the big-boy defenses the Utes will be facing.
Wynn completed 15 of 23 passes, but his longest connection was a short toss that tight end Dallin Rogers turned into a 15-yard gain. The eight misses were mostly low-risk attempts.
"I've got to complete passes. I've got to make those throws," Wynn said. "I can't miss guys, wide open."
Montana State's secondary gave up the underneath routes, partly explaining the Utes' approach but not fully, according to Whittingham: "We need to take some more shots down the field. â¦ That's on us, as coaches."
In a strange way, it might help that the competition gets tougher next weekend. Chow cannot thrive with runs and short passes against USC in the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a preteen Wynn once watched Chow dynamically operate the Trojans' offense.
Certainly, there are no more Montana States in Utah's future until next year at this time. With the Pac-12's nine-game league schedule allowing for three nonconference games, Ute athletic director Chris Hill intends to play "one really good team" and two "teams you think you should beat."
So get used to this kind of opener, basically producing a guaranteed victory and often leaving almost as many questions as answers in its wake.
As of Thursday night, Utah's passing game remained the biggest mystery of all.
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