Utah football: Utes in tough spot as Arizona State visits
The Utah Utes said they had to keep quarterback Jordan Wynn healthy to have a successful 2011 season.
So, now what?
With Wynn possibly "shelved for a while," in the words of coach Kyle Whittingham following the injury he suffered to his left shoulder in Saturday's 31-14 loss to Washington, the Utes might have no choice but to put the offense in the hands of a guy who was never supposed to play Division I football.
Backup quarterback Jon Hays, who was signed by the Utes at the urging of offensive coordinator Norm Chow when Nebraska-Omaha dropped its football program, will start Saturday against Arizona State if Wynn can't play.
The Utes are expected to know more about Wynn's injury after he is evaluated Monday, but Whittingham wasn't hopeful following Saturday's loss that the quarterback would be available against the Sun Devils.
Seemingly resigned to the fact that Wynn is out for at least the near future, Whittingham acknowledged that the Utes are in a difficult situation but not an impossible one.
"We'll see what happens," he said. "We have to play good defense regardless of what is going on with the offense. Everyone in the country has players who get injured, and you have to shuffle the deck and play with the cards you are dealt and get the right guys and plays for those guys and find a way to make it work."
For the Utes, that means taking an offense designed for Wynn and the passing game and remaking it to fit Hays' running style.
After Wynn left Saturday's game for good at the half, finishing 12-for-17 for 149 yards, Hays was 10-for-16 for 156 yards. However, the game got away from Utah in that time with the Utes' only score being a 4-yard touchdown pass from Hays to Dallin Rogers with seven seconds remaining.
Still, Hays said he is ready to be a starter if Wynn can't go.
"I'm a scholarship guy, and they brought me here to play football," he said.
The Utes do have a precedent in such situations. In 2005, Brett Ratliff, another Butte College product, led the Utes to wins over BYU and Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl after starter Brian Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury.
But by that point in the season, the Utes had a good idea of what their offense could do and who could help Ratliff.
Considering that Utah's offensive struggles on Saturday came against a defense that was giving up 453.2 yards a game, and the Utes face a much better team in the Sun Devils, it's no wonder Whittingham couldn't hide his discouragement in the postgame news conference.
The Utes had hoped their game against the Sun Devils would be a showdown for the lead in the Pac-12 South division, but now ASU is the team firmly in control following its 35-20 win over Oregon State and Utah's loss to the Huskies.
ASU overcame four turnovers to beat Oregon State. The Utes had no such luck against the Huskies as five turnovers, including one on the opening kickoff that led to a Washington touchdown, doomed them even more than the injury to Wynn.
Tweaking the offense to fit Hays, breathing life into a run game that produced just 17 yards against the Huskies and preparing a defense to face an ASU offense that is averaging 35.4 points a game are all tasks facing the Utes this week.
It's a tough order, but one the Utes are ready to take on, said offensive lineman John Cullen.
"We're a tough team, and we don't quit," he said. "Obviously it's a bad loss but we still played hard, and we'll use this to motivate us. We'll bounce back from this."
Arizona State rundown
The Sun Devils are coming off a 35-20 win over Oregon State. Here is a look at where the team ranks nationally.
Passing yards 285.0 No. 27
Rushing yards 141.0 No. 68
Points for 35. 4 No. 31
Points against 20.6 No. 31