Utes head into Pac-12 play with confidence
The Utah Utes' offensive line remains a work in progress, the special teams play is as suspect as ever and the run game was surprisingly ineffective against BYU.
But despite all the areas that need work, the Utah Utes (2-1) maintain they are in good shape as they head into Pac-12 play this Saturday at Arizona State.
There is nothing like a win over a fierce rival to give a team a sunny outlook.
"Winning a game like that definitely gives you some momentum," quarterback Jon Hays said of the Utes' 24-21 win over No. 25 BYU Saturday. "Hopefully we can take that to Arizona. The last couple of days we've been on a high."
Adding to the Utes' rejuvenation was Saturday's upset of USC by Stanford. As bad as the Utes' loss to Utah State was, the Utes could take some solace in knowing it wouldn't affect their Pac-12 race.
USC doesn't have such a wound salve. The race is suddenly very interesting, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham admitted.
"It does change the dynamic of things," he said. "It puts a much different spin on it. Everybody assumed SC would run the table. It does make it interesting and we'll see how things play out."
As for the Utes, they have plenty of areas where they must improve before they can think about contending for any title.
The Utes' offensive line still needs work and the run game was "abysmal," in the words of Whittingham, after the team managed just 49 yards on 35 carries Saturday.
Veteran John White should be back this week after missing the BYU game with an ankle injury, but the Utes need production from other players, too.
On a positive note, quarterback Jon Hays played as well as the Utes could have hoped against BYU, going 18-for-27 for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Unlike last year, when the offense got stagnant with Hays running the show, the Utes feel they can take more shots downfield this season.
"He is as tough as nails," Whittingham said. "He took some shots mentally and physically. The offensive line played better, but he makes them better with his ability to move around a bit."
Hays said he is up for that challenge of taking more shots downfield since he already feels more confident this year than he ever did in 2011.
"Last year I handled the offense as best as I could, but I kind of got thrown into the fire," Hays said. "This year I got to work with [offensive coordinator Brian Johnson] in spring and fall and he came in and did a good job handling me."
Defensively, the Utes' line played well against BYU while the secondary should get a boost with the return of safety Brian Blechen this week. Blechen has missed the last three games while serving a suspension for breaking team rules.
He'll give an added boost to a team already feeling better about its outlook.
"As disappointing a game as we had two weeks ago, there was no drop-off in the way this team handled business," Whitingham said. "As a coach that is what you want."
Now it's time to handle the business of the Pac-12.
Utah at Arizona State
P Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks