The University of Utah football team has a turnover problem, and it really isn’t up for debate.
In losses to USC and Washington to open the season, the Utes have turned the ball over nine times. That puts Utah in a three-way tie for last in turnovers lost in the Pac-12, while its total turnover margin of minus-four places it in the Pac-12′s bottom third.
Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig addressed reporters Tuesday morning in the wake of Saturday night’s 24-21 loss to Washington, which featured four turnovers. Ludwig, who kept it short and sweet during the four-minute Zoom session, didn’t feel the need to mince words.
“I’m disgusted with it,” Ludwig said. “Not surprised, disgusted. No, I didn’t see it coming. We have been a very good ball-security football team and it is a constant point of emphasis with every player on the offensive unit. Obviously, we have to do a much better job of taking care of the football, especially starting with the quarterback position.”
Even if you take away a Jake Bentley Hail-Mary interception at the end of the USC game when the outcome wasn’t in doubt, plus another Bentley pick on a deep ball late in the Washington game with Utah clinging to life, even seven through two games is still a ton.
UTAH VS. OREGON STATE
At Rice-Eccles Stadium
When • Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN
There is some blame to go around. Cameron Rising tossed an ugly, early interception vs. USC, then fumbled inside his own 15, a play that cost him his season after the redshirt sophomore went diving for the loose ball and injured his shoulder. Freshman running back Ty Jordan, who has otherwise been a revelation through two games, has lost two fumbles, one of which was a crusher at Washington, inside the Huskies’ 15-yard line as Utah was heading for the end zone.
Bentley is responsible for the other five. Against the Huskies, he was stripped on the game’s opening drive after he was flushed out of the pocket. Later in the third quarter, Bentley threw into coverage over the middle on a pass that was intended for Britain Covey.
“It starts with me, I have to be better in that area for sure,” Bentley said Tuesday morning. “It’s something that has to be eliminated if we want to win games, and it’s something we plan on getting fixed this week at practice.”
To that end, Kyle Whittingham is not one to skimp on practice details, so it isn’t like turnovers and ball security haven’t already been a topic of conversation.
Whittingham noted Tuesday that, for years, Utah has dedicated practice periods to nothing but ball-security drills, and that Ludwig has always been very tuned in to that part of execution.
“If you boil it right down to the bare bones, that’s been our issue,” Whittingham said. “Like I’ve said, if we turn the ball over one time in each of those first two games, we probably win both of them, but that’s shoulda, woulda, coulda. That’s how impactful it’s been.”
Utah’s next opponent, Oregon State, is plus-two in turnover margin through four games, which makes it a middle-of-the-road Pac-12 team in that regard. Last week, the Beavers turned the high-powered Oregon offense over three times to help score a 41-38 come-from-behind victory in Corvallis.
Will Britain Covey’s role increase vs. Oregon State?
After dressing and warming up, but not playing vs. USC due to a hamstring issue, Covey was cleared for kick and punt return duty, but saw limited action on offense at Washington.
Ludwig on Tuesday said Covey has practiced very little over the last week, but the intention moving forward is that he will practice and be a part of the game plan vs. Oregon State. Whittingham echoed Ludwig’s optimism, but sounded a little more realistic about the situation.
“He’s fearless, he’s courageous, and we hope that his role is expanded this week and he is able to do a lot more on offense, but that remains to be seen,” Whittingham said. “We’ll have to see how the practice week goes and how he progresses, but we’re a better football team when he’s in the lineup, I can tell you that, because he’s a playmaker.”
Covey’s return from a redshirt year, the byproduct of his surgically-repaired right ACL not allowing him to go full speed after injuring it in the 2018 Pac-12 championship game, was hailed as a major benefit for a Utah offense in transition following the losses of quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss.
Ludwig, himself, said at the beginning of fall camp that he expected to line Covey up in different spots in an effort to get him the ball as much as possible. That hope has not yet panned out.
In his two fully-healthy, or at least mostly-healthy seasons, Covey led Utah in receptions in 2015 and 2018, while quickly defining himself as an electric punt- and kick-return specialist.
“I’m optimistic, we’re optimistic, he’s optimistic, but it remains to be seen,” Whittingham said.