Utah football offers condolences and help in the wake of deadly Virginia shooting

Utah meanwhile prepares play at Oregon on Saturday night with heavy Pac-12 championship implications on the line.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah hosts USC, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham knows the pain all too well.

So as news of a shooting that killed three Virginia football players spread late Sunday and Monday night, Whittingham and the Utes were quick to offer condolences and more.

“We send our condolences from our program to Virginia, with the tragic, horrific situation they’re going through,” Whittingham said. “Thoughts and prayers are with them and their program. It’s awful, I don’t know what more you can say. We’re thinking about them.”

Police say Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, is suspected of shooting the three football players and wounding two others. Jones had once played on the football team, but had not been a member of the team for at least a year, police said.

Whittingham said that he and Utah have reached out to UVA leadership in an effort to help. Whittingham and Utah, unfortunately, have experience in this realm.

On Christmas night 2020, former Utes running back Ty Jordan died, the victim of an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound. Nearly nine months later, Aaron Lowe, Jordan’s best friend and high school teammate who had taken on Jordan’s No. 22 with the Utes, was shot and killed outside a house party in Sugar House.

“We’ve reached out and done some things to let them know we’re thinking of them and praying for them,” Whittingham said. “You’re right, we have been through our share of tragedy. It’s just horrific, to have three players, what they’re going through is a difficult thing of course, given who the gunman was. You couldn’t think of a worse situation. We’ve reached out and let them know.”

Jones was in custody Monday morning following a 12-hour manhunt involving multiple agencies.

Bo Nix, difference maker

Whittingham didn’t need to hear the end of the question Monday morning before coming up with what his answer.

What is the biggest difference at the University of Oregon between this season and last season?

“QB, QB without a doubt,” Whittingham said during his weekly press conference as the 10th-ranked Utes ready to face No. 12 Oregon on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. “Bo Nix is a tremendous player.”

The Auburn transfer has the third-best quarterback rating in the country (89.0) behind only Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker.

Utah’s Cam Rising has the fifth-best QBR in the nation.

Saturday’s winner will be in prime position to get to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2. The loser may not be officially eliminated, but would face an uphill climb with two conference losses and outside help necessary.

A year ago, Utah (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) beat the Ducks twice in 13 days to clinch the South title and win its first Pac-12 championship. In both games, the Utes’ defense overwhelmed Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown, who was a combined 30-for-59 for 358 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. The Pac-12 championship game was especially glaring as Brown’s inexplicable interception into the hands of nickel back Malone Mataele felt like the back-breaker in what was a 38-10 Utah win.

Nix, a fourth-year junior who had an up-and-down three seasons at Auburn, has been a revelation for the Ducks (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12), who were very much in the College Football Playoff conversation before Saturday’s 37-34 home loss to Washington. Much of that has to do with Nix, who is completing nearly 73% of his passes for 2,774 yards and 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions. His 79 rushes for 512 yards and a whopping 14 touchdowns add another element Utah has to account for.

Whittingham is a believer in analytics, going as far as to say that in the past. QBR is the truest measure of a quarterback. To that note, Nix ranked third nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 in QBR. Before the loss to the Huskies, there was legitimate Heisman Trophy hype beginning to build, which is not the annual norm for players on this side of the country.

“That is absolutely the single biggest difference between this year and last year,” Whittingham said.

Regular-season finale placed in six-day hold

For the fourth week in a row, Utah will have to wait an extra few days to learn a kickoff time.

As the Pac-12 released kickoff times for regular-season finales to be played during Thanksgiving weekend, the Utes’ trip to Colorado on Nov. 26 was placed in a six-day hold, which means the networks want to see how games this weekend play out before making a decision.

The two monstrous Pac-12 games on tap Saturday, Utah-Oregon and USC-UCLA, were both placed in six-day holds last week before decisions were made. Not long after Oregon lost to Washington, USC-UCLA was announced as a 6 p.m. MT kickoff, meaning East Coast primetime, on FOX, while Utah-Oregon is an 8:30 p.m. start on ESPN.

The time/broadcast options for Utah-Colorado, per the Pac-12, are 1:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN, 2 p.m. on Pac-12 Network, or 8/8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

What is Dalton Kincaid’s status for Oregon?

Dalton Kincaid did not play much on Saturday vs Stanford, but he played, which bodes well for his availability vs. Oregon.

The All-Pac-12 tight end returned Saturday after a one-game absence due to a shoulder injury suffered at Washington State on Oct. 27. He caught four Cam Rising passes for 35 yards against the Cardinal, but did not start. Thomas Yassmin started, catching one pass, a 14-yard catch-and-run that went for a third-quarter touchdown that put Utah ahead, 21-7, as part of a 42-7 victory.

“He came out well,” Whittingham said. “We didn’t play him a whole lot, and when we did, it was more as a receiving threat, we didn’t ask him to do a lot of blocking. He’s still not 100%, there’s some soreness, but he’s a lot further ahead today than he was last Monday.”