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Utah football: Utes' offense putting up offensive numbers

Published October 20, 2011 3:45 pm

Utah football • Turnovers, missed assignments, penalties are taking toll on Utes' attack.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes the way quarterback Jon Hays hollers out the snap count can make his offensive linemen jump offside. At other times miscommunication along the line gives defenses an easy shot at Hays and he ends up plastered on his back. And at still other times, what looks like a good gain for the Utes ends up as a ball that is fumbled away or a pass that is dropped or a penalty that is committed.

Suffice it to say: All the glowing reports that Utah's offense looked great in preseason camp and all the talk of a multitude of supposedly talented weapons haven't translated into much on the field.

The Utes rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in every category and are averaging just 14 points a game against conference foes.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has acknowledged the offense has plenty of faults, saying there are a "multitude of things" that must be corrected.

Where do the Utes start and how much of a patch job can be done in the coming days? Will the offense ever really do its part — or are the Utes bound to be a team characterized by a fantastic defense and a mediocre offense this year?

While the statistics might not be positive, the Utes are. They believe they can still be a formidable offensive team even without Jordan Wynn and other key injured players.

The Utes maintain there is nothing wrong with Norm Chow's offense, the play-calling or anything else; it's just a matter of performing better.

"It's execution," Whittingham said. "We've talked about the penalties and the vast majority are occurring in the red zone and we've got to get rid of that. We have to do a better job in the red zone, that is our biggest issue."

Of their 21 trips into the red zone, the Utes have just nine touchdowns, three of which were against Montana State in the season opener.

The Utes' most glaring problems recently have been the penalties. Case in point was Utah's last game against Pitt when Utah recovered a fumble on Pitt's 13-yard line in the fourth quarter.

What looked like a sure chance to get at least a field goal turned into a comedy of errors, with receiver Luke Matthews getting flagged for a false start, Hays getting sacked for a loss of nine yards and lineman John Cullen committing a personal foul.

The Utes ended up on Pitt's 35-yard line with a 4th-and-32. Adding insult to injury was a wind gust that caught the ball on the punt snap, causing punter Nick Marsh to lose the ball.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anything like that before," said Whittingham of the series, in a tone that made it clear he didn't want to see it again.

The sack was just one of seven on Hays in the game, while other plays didn't have enough time to develop.

Utah's offensive line was an area of concern going into the season, but senior Tony Bergstrom said the struggles are more communication issues than lack of talent.

"There were a couple times when the guard was supposed to come out with [the tackle] and he stayed in. It's a hard thing for the guard because he doesn't want to ditch the center," Bergstrom said. "Maybe Jon was going out too fast, I don't know. It is one of those chemistry issues we have to work on."

Complicating matters for the Utes is they are still developing talent at key spots, including quarterback and running back.

Hays, now 1-1 as a starter, has done some good things in Wynn's absence, Whittingham said. But he remains on a learning curve.

"We can't keep feeding the ball to John White 36 times," said Whittingham, referring to the running back's performance against Pitt. "We've got to supplement that run game with more in the throw game."

However, Whittingham said the struggles aren't so much on Hays that the Utes feel they must simplify things for him.

"We keep shooting ourselves in the foot in the red zone," Whittingham said. "It's the false starts, fouls and sacks. You never want those but when they happen in the red zone they are magnified."

Just as big of a concern is the Utes' inability to bust big plays after catches. Injuries have depleted Utah's available playmakers, with tight end Dallin Rogers out for the season with a knee injury and top receiver DeVonte Christopher questionable this week with an ankle sprain that kept him from playing against Pitt.

The Utes aren't using injuries as excuses though, just as they aren't blaming anyone but themselves for their offensive struggles.

Bergstrom said the tools, the plays and schemes the Utes need to succeed are there for them, they just have to execute them.

"We have to play a smarter game," he said.

A smarter game, with better results. —

Where does U. offense rank?

Category Average Pac-12 NCAA Rushing offense 129.3 8 83

Passing offense 201.5 11 85

Passing efficiency 122.2 10 78

Total offense 330.8 12 99

Scoring offense 24.8 10 82 —

Utah in red zone

Opponent No. TD FG

Montana St. 4 3 1

USC 2 2 0

BYU 4 1 1

Washington 5 2 0

ASU 2 1 0

Pittsburgh 4 0 3