Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham declined to name a starting quarterback Monday during his weekly news conference, but all signs are pointing to Cam Rising taking over for Charlie Brewer.
“No, we won’t do that,” Whittingham said when asked whether or not he was ready to announce his starter. “We have a solid idea of what we’re going to do, but we’re not going to make any official announcement. You’ll just see him trot out there on Saturday.”
The Utes on Monday began preparations to host Washington State on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Until then, observers will have to read the tweets and tea leaves.
On Monday, Whittingham spoke for 12 minutes without referencing Brewer once, but whether that qualifies as tipping his hand is highly debatable. Whittingham did note that increasing the offensive tempo must be a consideration, which would appear to be a nod toward Rising. The fourth-year sophomore went 19 for 32 for 153 yards and three touchdown passes in relief of Brewer during the Utes’ 33-31 triple-overtime loss at San Diego State. In that time, Utah upped the tempo considerably and looked comfortable doing so — certainly more comfortable than it did with Brewer presiding over the offense for almost 11 quarters this season.
“It’s something that you have to think about, for sure, and it was productive for us,” Whittingham said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the answer to go fast for an entire game, but you have to mix tempos up. That’s something that we also have to take a hard look at.”
Another potential clue: Roughly 20 minutes before Whittingham spoke, Utes wide receiver Theo Howard tweeted #ThiccBoi7. That hashtag, which has gained a cult-like appreciation in Ute message board circles, is a reference to Rising, leading to the increased assumption that the fourth-year sophomore will start. Howard’s tweet has since been deleted.
Then there is the clear evidence that Utah’s offense found a spark after Rising came entered the game Saturday.
His first two drives stalled early and ended in punts. The third drive ended on downs after Rising hit Britain Covey for eight yards on fourth-and-goal from the 12, but then things got going. Down two touchdowns, Rising engineered two touchdown drives. One was a 10-play, 63-yard drive that took 2:16, the other a 14-play, 74-yard drive that took just 2:20, capped by Rising finding Howard in the end zone for a four-yard score with 16 seconds left before a two-point conversion tied the game.
Brewer presided over seven drives that ended in punts, plus one that ended with his interception by Tayler Hawkins, which yielded a San Diego State touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive.
In fairness, Brewer’s time as the starter has largely been marred by a porous offensive line, something Whittingham has lamented for some time now.
Bam Olaseni started at right tackle against the Aztecs, leaving Jaren Kump likely entrenched as the long-term left tackle. Olaseni started on the right side in place of Simi Moala, with the middle of the line, left guard Braeden Daniels, center Nick Ford and right guard Sataoa Laumea, unchanged.
“That’s another work in progress,” Whittingham said. “We have to settle on the five, we think we have a good handle on that after poring over the tape, the first three games of tape. We’ve studied everything meticulously.”
Viane Moala lost for the season
Whittingham announced that redshirt senior defensive tackle Viane Moala is out for the season after needing to be carted off during the fourth quarter at San Diego State.
Moala, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound transfer from Hawaii, appeared to get his left leg rolled up on before staying down on the Dignity Health Sports Park grass. After he was loaded onto a backboard, a group of roughly 10 Utes helped lift him into the medical cart before he was taken to a local hospital.
Whittingham, who called Moala “the leader of the defensive tackle group,” pointed to BYU transfer Devin Kaufusi and second-year freshman Junior Tafuna as possible replacements for Moala, who has played in 45 career games.
It is not immediately clear whether or not Moala will pursue a medical redshirt, or if there is even one to be had. The 2021 season marks Moala’s sixth year, which includes a year in residency in 2018 after he transferred and a free year of eligibility in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
JT Broughton’s status is TBD
JT Broughton’s status for Washington State — not to mention anything beyond Saturday — is up in the air after the All-Pac-12 sophomore cornerback did not play at San Diego State with what Whittingham is calling an upper-body injury.
With Broughton out, second-year freshman Faybian Marks made his first career start, while classmate Clark Phillips III stayed at the other cornerback spot and Malone Mataele at the nickel. Marks drew praise during fall camp from both Whittingham and cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah.
“We are not sure, that’s a great question,” Whittingham said when asked if he knew whether or not Broughton’s injury is a short-term thing. “We may have an answer in the next couple of days. Right now, we don’t have a definitive answer on what his status will be for the rest of the season.”