From the way he winces when asked about the offensive line play of late, it’s obvious right guard Junior Salt doesn’t like seeing his quarterback flattened by a defender any more than Travis Wilson likes the view from the ground up.
As the Utes head into their final stretch, Salt and the rest of the offensive line are determined to keep Wilson off the turf more than they have lately.
Utah O-line stats
A breakdown of Utah’s starting five:
Plays Knockdowns Sacks allowed
Jeremiah Poutasi 555 9 6
Jeremiah Tofaeono 557 14 0
Vyncent Jones 554 15 1
Junior Salt 554 14 2
Siaosi Aiono 524 7 4
Utah vs. No. 23 Arizona StateSaturday, 2 p.m.
TV » Pac-12 Network
Wilson has been sacked nine times combined in the last two losses after getting tagged just eight times through the first six games.
"In the past few weeks, we’ve been giving up in one or two seconds," Salt said. "We need to hold our blocks for three or four seconds. We need more time to find the receivers and make plays in the run game. Passing is a strength for us, but not when you are giving up in one or two seconds."
What is most perplexing about the breakdowns is many have come from the left side, where left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and left guard Jeremiah Tofaeono reside.
Both drew rave reviews from the coaching staff in spring and fall, prompting coach Kyle Whittingham to call the offensive line the most improved area on Utah’s football team. Poutasi was All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a freshman.
Yet, the 6-foot-5, 345-pound sophomore has been beaten consistently in the recent losses, including when Wilson was sacked three times in the first quarter alone against the Trojans.
"We messed ourselves up," Poutasi said about the mistakes. "It wasn’t a lack of coaching but a lack of fundamentals and focus. We’ve had our highs and lows, but we have to get back up and fight some."
Unlike last year, when the offensive line was ravaged by injuries, it has benefited from a consistent starting lineup with Poutasi, Tofaeono, center Vyncent Jones, Salt and right tackle Siaosi Aiono starting the last six games.
Whittingham doesn’t have any plans to mess with that lineup, believing the best players are in place.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for some improvement.
"It hasn’t been good enough," Whittingham said about the line play. "They have to get better. We know it and they know it. They played well for a while there, but not the last couple of games."
They’ll have to play better against ASU, which has 20 sacks this season, led by junior Carl Bradford, a 6-1, 241-pound linebacker who has 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Bradford, regarded as ASU’s best defender, blitzes from anywhere and everywhere and generally causes havoc for the Sun Devils.
"They have a lot of speed and skills," Salt said about the Sun Devils. "They are a lot like USC, and they gave us a hard time blocking. But the bye week has been good for us to practice some things."
So far, the work has paid off, Whittingham said.
"They’ve practiced better, we just need it to show up on Saturday," he said.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.