Utah football: Utes' passing game livens up
Told Saturday's game was riding on his and the other receivers' shoulders, Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher had a great week of practice. They had an even better game Saturday.
"When you spend so much time practicing and preparing for a game and it actually works, it's the best feeling in the world," said Christopher, following Saturday's 34-21 win at Arizona. "Hard work pays off."
It is paying off in big ways for the Utes (5-4, 2-4), who not only head into Saturday's home game against UCLA (5-4, 4-2) on a two-game winning streak but with more confidence in their offense than they've had in a long time.
With Christopher, who missed two games with a sprained ankle, back in the lineup and quarterback Jon Hays feeling more comfortable with a scaled-back playbook, the Utes have found just enough potency in the passing game to sting defenses.
Hays was 12-of-21 for 199 yards Saturday, but it was his touchdown passes of 65 yards to Christopher and 44 yards to Reggie Dunn that made the Utes' game plan successful.
"We were able to loosen up the defense and get more room to run with the football," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But you have to connect with those (long passes). You can't just throw incompletion after incompletion, you have to connect to make the defense respect the passing game."
Such variety in the offense has the Utes feeling better about their situation as they host the Bruins in a game that is turning out to be bigger than it looked a few weeks ago when the Utes were at the bottom of the Pac-12 South.
The Utes need just one win for bowl eligibility and a victory over the Bruins could go a long ways in earning some respect for the Utes, who have been labeled as a 'BCS bust' by some national observers.
The Bruins are experiencing a similar resurgence to the Utes. Since losing to Arizona 48-12 three weeks ago, the Bruins regrouped and beat Cal 31-14 and upset No. 19 Arizona State 29-28 Saturday.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince was 11-for-17 for 196 yards and running back Derrick Coleman rushed 17 times for 119 yards in the win for the Bruins, who like the Utes have their first winning streak of the year thanks in large part to new life in its offense.
The Utes have always had confidence that their defense can stop such teams as UCLA's; it was the offense that was questionable, ever since quarterback Jordan Wynn went down with a season-ending injury.
Now, Utah seems to have found enough long-distance firepower in its offense to win games.
Hays, who said he is feeling more comfortable at quarterback, credited his receivers for making the plays.
"Those guys burned them off the line," he said. "We've got great playmakers off the line, they got open and it made for easy touchdowns. You have to credit the receivers."
The credit goes everywhere, said Christopher, who finished with three catches for 79 yards.
"We figured they'd key on John White having a good game and stack the box so we knew we had to make plays," he said.
UCLA at Utah
P Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 14
DeVonte Christopher Game by Game
Opponent Rec. Yds TD
Montana State 2 11 1
USC 11 136 1
BYU 3 58 0
Washington 5 125 0
Arizona St. 2 21 0
Pittsburgh DNP (ankle injury)
California DNP (ankle injury)
Oregon St. 1 3 1
Arizona 3 79 1