No, it’s not coincidence that a slow start for Utes star wide receiver Darren Carrington II meant poor production for the entire offense. After all, he’d been the major addition that pulled this new spread offensive system together as well as a security blanket for first-time starting quarterback Tyler Huntley.
For that matter, Carrington caught the first pass thrown when backup quarterback Troy Williams got thrown into the game against Arizona after Huntley’s shoulder injury.
It remains a question who will be trying to get the ball to Carrington this weekend. Huntley’s status, according to coach Kyle Whittingham, remains “still up in the air.” Both Cooper Bateman and Williams will get opportunities this week in practice.
Carrington, a former all-conference receiver at Oregon, went into the weekend leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game and among the national leaders (15th in the FBS in receiving yards). But for the first half against Stanford, Carrington was a non-factor in the offense. No catches. One pass thrown his way, which fell harmlessly incomplete at his feet.
“Stanford played a lot of man coverage and leaned the safety over to Darren’s side,” Whittingham said. “You could see the safety was very conscious of where Darren was aligned, but he still had a big game. Seven catches nearly 100 yards, so still had a significant impact on the game. We should have put him in better positions in the first half to get him the ball more.”
Whoever throws the passes will do well to get Carrington involved early. Carrington finished the night with seven catches for 99 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown reception with less than a minute left to play in Saturday’s 23-20 loss. However, he had two catches going into the fourth quarter and two of his catches in that quarter came on the final drive.
“I just think that personally our offense — they weren’t stopping us to be honest,” Carrington said. “We stopped ourselves. We missed a couple open players, messed up on a couple routes, missed a couple blocks. They didn’t do nothing too special on defense. I just wish I could have been more effective in the first half, but it just didn’t work out like that. Troy didn’t find me that much. We started clicking in the second half.”
Carrington undoubtedly makes the offense much more explosive. He racked up three consecutive 100-yard receiving games to start the season, and the Utes posted back-to-back 300-yard passing games for the first time in nearly a decade.
Going forward, the Utes need to make teams pay for devoting extra attention to Carrington. The Utes threw for just 116 yards through three quarters with just 7 yards coming on two receptions by Carrington.
“If they’re going to double up on him or roll the corner up and put the safety over the top — do things to take him away, then all the other receivers have got to pick up the slack,” said Whittingham. “We’ve got good receivers. I really like our receiving corps. It’s not just a one-man show.”
This weekend, Carrington will have plenty of motivation. A resident of San Diego, Carrington grew up watching USC and UCLA games on television. A four-star recruit coming out of Horizon High School, he earned first-team Cal-Hi all-state honors as a senior. He also played baseball and basketball in high school and earned second-team Cal-Hi all-state honors in basketball.
It hasn’t escaped Carrington’s notice that this weekend could be his last college game in his home state. When asked if it crossed his mind, Carrington replied “most definitely.”
“That’s just my mindset every game,” Carrington said. “It’s my last chance to leave my legacy against all these teams, so that’s why I get a little frustrated when nothing is going on on offense in the first half. Just knowing the type of guy and player I am, I just always want to make a play and get things going.”
Utah at No. 13 USC
Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4