Utah Utes mailbag: Do the Utes need a blowout win over Southern Utah to prove a point?

Plus: Cam Rising’s effectiveness, Jaylon Glover’s DNP at The Swamp, and more

(Phelan M. Ebenhack | AP) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, center, reacts on the sideline after a play during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla.

The University of Utah has a lot of football in front of it following a season-opening loss at the University of Florida.

Next up: the home-opener on Saturday morning against Southern Utah (11:30 a.m., Pac-12 Networks), which is expected to be the program’s 71st consecutive home sellout dating back to the 2010 opener. We will start this week’s Utes mailbag right there.

Do you have a question for Utes beat reporter Josh Newman? Send it to him via a tweet, direct message him on Twitter, email him at jnewman@sltrib.com, or leave it in the comments section at the end of this article and he will answer them in his weekly mailbag.

Q: “What does Utah’s response look like this week at Rice-Eccles?” - @BraqueBunkall7

A: Here is what Saturday at Rice-Eccles isn’t going to be, or at least, what it shouldn’t be.

Saturday should absolutely not be a referendum on this Utah team, what it is, what it could be, what this season could still be. If you believe any of this should be the case, I must advise you to seek professional help.

Off an emotionally-charged loss that may have changed the overall trajectory of the season, Utah does not need to bludgeon a first-year WAC program, which it is paying $600,000 to play the game, in order to make a point.

Here’s what Utah’s response should be: execute, score some points, don’t give up too many points, and get out of there healthy. Bonus points if offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig lets quarterback Cam Rising go deep down the field once or twice. That would appease most every fan watching.

Seriously, though. Bigger fish to fry down the road. The response on Saturday should be nothing extravagant.

Q: “Thoughts on Rising’s arm/shoulder — was it injured somewhat? During fall camp, there was buzz that he was 100% and throwing deeper with more zing and accuracy. That didn’t show up on the field in The Swamp. He was throwing behind and at the feet of his targets at times.” - @EricTLund

A: There has been no indication that Rising was injured or limited at Florida, nor was there any indication of that during fall camp. As Eric gets into here, it’s been quite the opposite. A big early camp storyline was Rising’s surgically-repaired shoulder being in better shape than it was a year ago, closer to or at 100%. With that, Kyle Whittingham voiced his hope that Rising and the offense could go down the field more, which they did very little of in 2021.

Rising certainly didn’t look injured, nor did I think he looked limited, but I did think there were first-half accuracy issues, which seemed uncharacteristic. On the final drive of the second quarter, Rising got the offense over midfield with a 13-yard pass to Brant Kuithe and a 14-yard scramble to the Florida 48-yard line.

On second down, he threw an incomplete pass at the feet of an open Kuithe. On third down, he missed an open Devaughn Vele for what would have been a big gain. The drive ended with a punt.

I thought Rising’s first half was a little rough, but his second half was clearly very good. If you’re going to take the entire night into account, sure, the interception at the end is going to get the bulk of attention, but I thought he had a good night. You can’t complete nearly 69% of your passes and call it a bad night.

Yes, we’re still waiting for Rising to spread it around to more than just Kuithe, who had nine catches on 13 targets. We’re waiting to see Vele and Solomon Enis to be more involved.

In fairness, we’re judging this whole thing on one game, which will probably end up featuring the most-athletic, most-capable secondary Utah will face all season. Better than USC, better than Oregon.

Q: “Thoughts on the stadium atmosphere/noise? I’ve witnessed a lot of Utah games (home and away) from both the stands and press box, and nothing compared to that of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.” - @BabushkaUtes

A: I was expecting to walk into the loudest, rowdiest atmosphere I’ve ever experienced in my 18 years in journalism, and The Swamp delivered more than I could have asked for.

Just big-time in every conceivable measure from an atmosphere standpoint. It was 90,000 people standing, screaming, swooning with every play, every score, every change in momentum, of which there were several in the second half.

The open-air press box in the heat and humidity, which actually weren’t bad thanks to a nice breeze up there for most of the night, made things a little uncomfortable for those of us deciding to, per usual, wear a tie, but in hindsight, that made the atmosphere more awesome.

It was hard not to get swallowed up by what was going around me. As Richardson scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown, The Swamp got louder than any other point of the night. As I started making fresh alterations to the game story I’d been working on since halftime, I had to get up, take a deep breath, and drink some water, because my heart was pounding.

As the game ended, myself and the other beat writers started making our way towards the elevator to go downstairs for postgame interviews.

My ears were ringing.

Quick knee-jerk list of stadium atmospheres I’ve experienced.

1. Florida (clear No. 1, Tom Petty after the third quarter delivered)

2. Utah (The Oregon game last year will stick with me the rest of my career)

3. Nebraska (Bad Cornhuskers team in 2017, place was full and raucous anyway).

4. Ohio State (Ohio Stadium brought the noise on a miserable, rainy day)

5. BYU (Sorry, Utah fans. My lone trip there last season was a big-time, big-game atmosphere).

Q: “Besides Fillinger, do you think the DEs are undersized or just young? I know they got sucked in during some of the zone read and play-actions but it also looked like they had a really hard time setting and keeping the edge. Also couldn’t keep contain on the QB at all.” - @Anzures801

A: This depends on how you want to define youth.

This is Miki Suguturaga’s third year in the program, but the Florida game represented just the 12th contest of his career. I veer toward the latter on this topic. Sure, Suguturaga is an older guy, but he hasn’t had a ton of game reps at defensive end. Same goes for Jonah Elliss, who played very well on Saturday, and Connor O’Toole, who is a converted tight end who has played mostly on special teams.

Utah’s defensive line is definitely a bit undersized, a fact that of course gets magnified when playing an SEC team with a ton of size across both lines.

The Utes did not have a good game defensively. Utah had a hard time setting and keeping the edge, it allowed Anthony Richardson to run wild. In fairness, based on what we all watched Saturday night, I don’t think Utah will be the last team Richardson does that against.

Whittingham was quite critical of his front seven on Monday, using the word “sloppy” a number of times to help make his point. The most-jarring part of what Whittingham said was that the staff counted 27 missed tackles, which is just an asinine number, especially for a Utah defense that usually shows up to play.

Saturday’s defensive effort/production was shades of the game at Oregon State last season. If you forgot what happened that afternoon in Corvallis, it wasn’t anything good from a defensive perspective.

Q: “Was the lack of downfield throws we all heard so much about more about game plan, or something Florida DBs did?” - @gdorius

A: I touched on this a little bit in the first question of this mailbag, but let’s make another point.

It would have been good if Rising had spread things around, tried to hit Vele more, tried to hit Enis more, tried to get Money Parks involved out of the slot.

This topic has definitely been on my mind, but this is what I keep coming back to: Utah’s offense was getting things done all second half, and it was doing so by doing two things. One, Rising kept successfully going to Kuithe, because Florida couldn’t stop it. Two, Ludwig kept going to Tavion Thomas, because Florida couldn’t stop it. Thomas was 5.0 YPC for the night, Utah as a team was 5.9 YPC.

When you’re able to connect with your best pass-catching option — yes, Kuithe is far and away this team’s best pass-catcher — and you successfully established the run, do you really want to go away from that? I say no. I would listen to arguments to the contrary, but I doubt anyone would have a good one. Utah’s offense had a good night, that shouldn’t be up for debate.

Let’s not make any sweeping, firm judgments about anything after one game, especially this particular opener. That said, I don’t know how much we’re going to learn about anything against Southern Utah and, based on how San Diego State looked vs Arizona, I’m not sure we will learn a ton when the Aztecs show up here on Sept. 17.

Q: “Why didn’t Glover play?” - @ute2021

A: Good question. I’ll leave that one to Kyle Whittingham, who had this to say Monday in regards to his four-star true freshman running back.

“He was scheduled to possibly get time, there wasn’t a plan where he was definitely going to get time. He’s got a bright future here. He’s had some issues through fall camp, things he needs to get better at before we get completely comfortable putting him in the game. He’s working hard towards that end, and you’ll see him as the season progresses. You’ll see him.”

I imagine we see some of Glover on Saturday vs. Southern Utah. If not, either Utah did not blow SUU out, in which case I’ll have a bunch of questions, or there’s something more significant going on with Glover than Whittingham let on in the above quote.

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