Utah football: Utes' offensive line under scrutiny as preparations for Oregon begin
In a span of a few games, Utah's offensive line has gone from Utah's most improved unit to the one in most need of repair.
That was the assessment of coach Kyle Whittingham following yet another poor performance by the line in Utah's 20-19 loss to Arizona State on Saturday.
ASU sacked Utah quarterback Travis Wilson four times, including twice on Utah's opening drive, and forced the Utes (4-5, 1-5) to virtually abandon their passing attack in the first half to prevent Wilson from "getting killed," Whittingham said.
"We can't protect at all and that is a problem and it's getting worse," Whittingham said. "Our biggest issue is with the offensive line. It has to play better, plain and simple."
If it doesn't, Utah's chances of upsetting Oregon on Saturday when the teams meet in Eugene will go from slim to nil.
Oregon (8-1, 5-1), which likely saw its national title hopes dashed with a 26-20 loss to Stanford on Thursday, is best known for its offense, which is averaging 51.7 points a game. But the Ducks are one of the better defensive teams in the nation too.
Oregon is allowing just 17.9 points a game and ranks 29th in total defense, giving up 361.2 yards a game. It has 24 sacks, which isn't far off from the Utes, who lead the nation with 33.
Such good defensive play doesn't bode well for the Utes, who are struggling to find offensive weapons in the absence of injured tight ends Westlee Tonga and Jake Murphy.
Dres Anderson continues to be Utah's only real receiving threat, the run game lacks a consistent identity and opponents are finding their way through Utah's offensive line with more and more ease.
Wilson has been sacked 13 times in the last three games combined after getting sacked eight times in the first six games.
While some may wonder if Wilson's throwing hand is still injured, leading to a lack of a throw game, Whittingham insisted it was the poor effort of Utah's offensive line that dictated the play-calling to be more run-oriented.
"We have to protect the guy," Whittingham said. "That is what has to happen."
Whittingham said the coaching staff would study tape of Saturday's loss and determine what if any personnel changes must be made.
Whether it's with personnel or effort, it's clear something has to change if the Utes are to reach their goal of bowl eligibility.
The Utes play at Washington State and finish the season at home against Colorado following Saturday's contest in Eugene.
As disheartening as Saturday's loss was, the Utes say they are determined to finish strong.
"We are going to bounce back," Anderson said. "That is what we are going to do. We are going to play our hearts out."
Utah at Oregon
P Saturday, 2 p.m. MST
TV • FS1