Utes want to stay physical, but healthy, as the first football game approaches

(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics) Quarterback Jake Bentley huddles up the Utes offense during a practice session

The University of Utah football team has reached the point in fall camp where head coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff are trying to walk a fine line.

The Utes conducted their second and final live scrimmage Saturday, with 100 plays, full pads and full tackling. Everyone had Sunday off, with players and coaches reconvening at the Eccles Football Center on Monday, which marked 12 days until the season opener vs. Arizona at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Within those 12 days, Utah will not go fully live again, but it needs to be physically prepared to play a football game for the first time since the Alamo Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s a balancing act,” Whittingham said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters. “You’ve got to continue to be physical in practice, even though it’s not live and there’s not going to be very much live stuff going forward. You can still be physical, staying on your feet and not tackling to the ground, so there’s a lot you can accomplish.”

Utah was scheduled to have meetings and weight-room work Monday before moving back to the practice field Tuesday. When practice starts back up, Whittingham said his team will move to what he termed, ‘thud tempo.’

‘Thud tempo,’ per Whittingham, consists of live hitting at the line of scrimmage, but, as the 16th-year head coach noted, no one is getting tackled to the ground. ‘Thud tempo’ will begin as Utah enters its third full week of camp, and as full-blown Arizona preparations are slated to start towards the end of this week.

To this point, Whittingham estimates that a lot of his players have taken between 150-200 live reps during camp, which equates to roughly two-and-a-half games.

“You have to make sure you don’t overdo that either because you don’t want to go into the game beat up,” Whittingham said. “We don’t feel like we’re beat up as a football team, we feel pretty good where we’re at. Guys have responded, but we have to make sure they’re fresh on Nov. 7.”

Whittingham expects starting QB in place for Tuesday’s practice

When Whittingham addressed reporters on Monday, it was before 9 a.m. At that point, he and his staff had not finished evaluating Saturday’s scrimmage, nor had he sat down with his staff to discuss personnel matters entering a new week.

His expectation is that the Utes would have a starting quarterback in place going into Tuesday afternoon’s practice.

Whittingham has kept things close to the vest, but the widely-held presumption is that his quarterback battle has boiled down to South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley and redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising. When camp began Oct. 9, it was a three-way battle between Bentley, Rising, and redshirt senior Drew Lisk.

Neither Bentley, nor Rising has taken a snap in a Utah uniform. Bentley, though, has 33 career starts across four seasons in the SEC. Rising spent last season working with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig while serving his year in residency following his transfer from the University of Texas.

If and when Whittingham and staff make a quarterback decision, that decision is not expected to be made public until next week.

Utah-Arizona set for 2 p.m. kickoff on ESPNU

The Pac-12 on Monday afternoon announced kickoff times and television designations for its opening week on Nov. 7, with Utah-Arizona set for a 2 p.m. kickoff and an ESPNU broadcast.

Nov. 7 will offer a significant exposure opportunity for the Pac-12. The league previously announced that USC-Arizona State, a critical early-season South Division matchup, will air nationally on FOX, with a 10 a.m. kickoff from the L.A. Coliseum. Later that day, Stanford-Oregon will be ABC Saturday Night Football, complete with a 5:30 p.m. start. The Ducks, winners of last season’s Pac-12 title, as well as the Rose Bowl, are the prohibitive favorites to win the league, which will embark on a seven-game season in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday’s announcement makes three Utah kickoff times that are known. The Utes' Nov. 13 game at UCLA will kick off at 8:30 p.m., while their Dec. 11 trip to Colorado comes with a 7:30 p.m. start.