Utah football: Utes brace for USC amid tragedy
Even as he helped his team cope with the tragedy of a teammate, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham turned some of his attention this weekend to the Utes' next task on the field facing the No. 25 USC Trojans in the Coliseum.
Facing the Trojans on their home turf is challenging enough on a normal week, but the Utes are also coping with the death of junior lineman Ron Tongaonevai's wife, Janelle, who was killed Thursday night in an auto accident.
"There is definitely a black cloud hanging over our program right now," Whittingham said. "It is tough, and everybody is impacted by it. We're trying to work through it, but the main thing right now is to support Ron in any way we can."
While thoughts might be elsewhere, the Utes still must prepare for one of their toughest challenges of the 2011 season.
The Trojans were just 8-5 last year, but they return quarterback Matt Barkley, leading receiver Robert Woods and top rusher Marc Tyler, along with seven returning starters on defense.
"They are a talent factory," Whittingham said. "I don't foresee any weaknesses in that program, but we'll learn more about them when we study the tape."
As good as USC might be, the Utes' biggest concerns are with their own offense.
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said the hardest adjustment for him to make to Norm Chow's offense was getting the footwork down.
Based on Thursday's 27-10 win over Montana State, it might be time for Wynn and the rest of the offense to invest in some dance lessons.
Utah's offense and rhythm never got in sync Thursday, which was the biggest surprise and most disappointing development for Whittingham.
The Utes have always prided themselves on having a quick tempo and haven't had any troubles with it in practice, but the good rhythm wasn't there Thursday. Instead, the Utes shakily tripped through their offense like a bunch of guys uncertain what the next dance step was going to be.
"In practice we were playing much faster than that and doing a better job with the play clock," Whittingham said following the game. "In every situation we were breaking the huddle with 22, 21 and 20 seconds on the clock but tonight it was not that way. We were pressing it tonight. Most snaps were well in the single digits, and that is not the tempo we wanted to play with. We have to be faster and have a more up-tempo game."
That kind of performance won't cut it against USC. The Utes planned to take the weekend off and watch the USC-Minnesota game for scouting purposes, but anyone who saw the Utes' dismal offensive showing Thursday knows a huge improvement is needed if they are to survive the Trojans.
"We made way too many mistakes on the offense," offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom said. "We made too many stupid mistakes. I don't know what those were about. But it was a good way for us to see our weaknesses and what we have to fix. The positive thing for us is we know what we have to fix."
Wynn, who was 15-for-23 for 101 yards and two touchdowns, took most of the blame for the offensive showing.
The Utes barely threw downfield, with Utah averaging just 6.7 yards per completion.
Wynn said the Utes didn't stick to a short game by design. He admitted the offense and its much-hyped set of receivers, who call themselves Utah's "Air Force," were laid low most of the night.
"The overall execution goes to me," he said. "I have to complete those passes."
Much speculation has swirled about Wynn's health during camp as trainers limited his throws to protect his surgically repaired shoulder. Both the quarterback and Whittingham have consistently said he is healthy and neither blamed Thursday's effort on the arm, or at least its health.
"He has to get his mechanics worked out," Whittingham said of Wynn. "He has to get more zip on it, but the shoulder is fine. There are no excuses, but he made the right decisions. There are a lot of offensive decisions in these packages and he did a nice job with all those, but we have to be more productive in the throw game. You can't throw for 100 yards in the Pac-12 week in and out and win a lot of ball games."
Utah's offense struggled to find its rhythm against the Bobcats. Here is a look at each drive and how it ended.
Plays Yards Time of Possession How it Ended
3 4 0:38 Punt
3 8 0:46 TD
9 62 4:32 TD
4 5 1:31 FG
9 59 4:01 TD
10 38 5:29 Punt
1 3 0:35 End of half
8 37 3:11 FG
4 21 2:20 Punt
5 23 3:00 Punt
3 10 1:56 Punt
4 3 2:38 End of game