This weekend’s trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum provides an opportunity for the Utah offense, particularly the Troys – quarterback Troy Williams and offensive coordinator Troy Taylor – to wash away the bad aftertaste from last week’s loss to Stanford.
Coincidentally, the duo’s chance to put together a more palatable performance comes against Troy, also known as the Trojans of USC.
The Utes (4-1, 1-1) offensive shortcomings were glaring in last week’s three-point loss, the team’s first of the season. They settled for field goals twice after driving inside their opponent’s 5-yard line, turned the ball over twice, failed to get their top receiver involved until the second half and completed just 50 percent of their passes.
Williams, who made his first start of the season in place of injured Tyler Huntley, shouldered the brunt of the blame in the immediate aftermath of the loss.
“It just wasn’t clicking for me,” Williams said. “I was coming into this week Just trying to step everything up, my intensity, film study, just trying to get us going as an offense as a whole and trying to get us ready for this week.”
Williams, a senior co-captain, is 9-5 as the Utes starter and shepherded them to a win at Arizona after Tyler Huntley suffered a shoulder injury. However, Williams went just 20-of-39 passing with a touchdown and a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions against Stanford.
Ute coach Kyle Whittingham has left open the possibility that third-string quarterback Cooper Bateman could take over the quarterback duties this week.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Williams said of talk about Bateman possibly taking over the starting job. “I just know it’s a big bounce-back week for me, and I’ve just got to stay positive and stay true to the system. I know I’m going to bounce back.”
Utah at No. 13 USC
Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4
While Whittingham has been decidedly non-committal on his starting quarterback and has left Huntley’s status as day-to-day, Taylor didn’t flounder in his support of Williams following Tuesday’s practice.
“[Bateman] is the second quarterback right now, so he’s absolutely got to be ready,” Taylor said. “We’re going to prepare him like he’s going to play, just like we do every week, but I’m confident that Troy is going to go in and play great and lead us to victory and play well offensively.”
Reinforcing Williams’ psyche and building his confidence back up will be a major focus for Taylor. Williams appeared downtrodden following Saturday’s loss. He commented afterward that Utes followers probably hated him and that he wasn’t the guy they wanted to see.
A former record-setting quarterback at California, Taylor knows the pitfalls of playing the position that gets the lion’s share of the attention and he has been conscious of that in his interactions with Williams.
“I have great intent when I talk with him and my quarterbacks because it’s an incredibly hard position, and a lot of things are out of your control,” Williams said. “You can only, you know, get back off the ground and try to be consistent and move forward. I just try to foster that because he’s a talented guy. One day, one play, five plays doesn’t define you. It’s how he’s going to respond this week.”
Stanford put pressure on Williams throughout the Stanford game, and it affected his decision-making as the game wore on. While Taylor acknowledged that the pressure played a role in Williams’ performance, he added that at times the offensive missteps were a “mixed bag” with the pass protection, wide receivers, quarterback and the play-calling taking turns as the culprit.
“We took our turns on that, and I’m a part of it,” Taylor said.
USC figures to come after Williams and attempt to rattle him and throw the Ute offense off of its stride again this week. How they handle that heat could be a major deciding factor in the game, and Williams knows it.
“They’re going to bring a lot of pressure,” Williams said. “I don’t think they’re going to sit back there and let us throw the ball. I think they’re going to try to hit home and get some sacks, but we’re preparing for that so we’ll be ready.”