Everything Kyle Whittingham said as Utah opens Week 3, prep for Weber State
Utah is 2-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country following a dramatic 20-13 win over Baylor on the road last Saturday.
The Utes sputtered on offense for most of the game and entered the fourth quarter trailing the Bears. But, behind an upstart effort from quarterback Nate Johnson and a crucial late-game interception from Cole Bishop, Utah outscored Baylor 14-0 in the final 15 minutes to escape with an unblemished record.
Now the attention shifts to Weber State in Week 3. Coach Kyle Whittingham met with reporters Monday to kick off the week, discuss the team’s health, and more.
Here’s what he said, with select quotes below:
“Extremely hard-fought victory down in Waco against Baylor. Really couldn’t get anything going offensively until the last stages of the game. Credit to our defense for keeping us in the game up until that point, otherwise it would’ve been too little, too late. The defense did a great job of keeping points off the board and keeping the game competitive until the offense could get a spark. That spark occurred with about 11 minutes to go in the game. We made the decision to put Nate Johnson in and give him the opportunity to show what he could do with an entire drive. He did a great job, it was a 15-play drive, consumed about (eight) minutes…got us in the end zone, finally. Hadn’t gotten in the end zone up until that point, kicked the PAT to tie it with just under two minutes. Had we had under one minute, we would’ve gone for two. We were prepared to do that, but with approximately two minutes left in the game there was too much football left for that to occur.
“So we kicked the extra point to tie it. Still had two timeouts at that point, kicked off and proceeded to get a great stop on defense; ultimately it was Cole Bishop’s interception that did stop the drive and set us up in position to get our last touchdown. Just hung on at the end defensively. We made a grave error after the touchdown; second play of the drive we let somebody get behind us. But we made a nice play in the end zone, which I thought was a good no-call, should not have been pass interference based on the film. Good job by the officials letting them play, and that was the game.
“So we’re 2-0, got Weber State coming to our place this week. Still trying to get guys healthy. That’s an ongoing challenge. But we’re in pretty good position right now after two P5 games of coming away with two victories and ready to move on.”
On managing the heat in Waco
“I was sweating from start to finish. It affects (the players) a great deal. If you don’t prepare for it and hydrate…we had a couple guys that were prone to cramps getting IVs prior to the game to get them as hydrated as we could possibly get them. That being said, I think we only had one, maybe two players cramp up. That was a credit to our sports science department; it includes the strength staff, our sports scientists, our nutrition people; they did a great job throughout the week of getting (the players) ready for the extreme temperatures. It was challenging. But credit our guys, they handled adversity. That was really the key to the game, handling adversity throughout the entire 60 minutes and never backing down from tough situations. That was critical. But it affects players a great deal if they don’t prepare for it.”
On the defensive line
“I think first of all, we have good players up front. Those guys are very good, it’s a talented front. We did get Junior Tafuna back for this game, which was a big help. That was really a key in the game. We were not as good against the run in the first half as we needed to be. We weren’t horrible, but in the second half we really tightened the screws down and did a great job of stuffing the run, turning them one-dimensional. That was as big a key as any to ultimately being able to win the game, [controlling] the run game in the second half. At the same time, we ran the ball much better ourselves in the second half. We came away with over 200 yards rushing and the majority of that production was in the second half. That’s almost always a key in the game, your ability to defend the run and your ability to run the ball on offense. We have good players up front with good linebackers in the front seven. Very stout. We have some safeties that come downhill and can smack you. They’re excellent tacklers. We only missed six tackles (against Baylor) after missing just four the week before. We’ve tackled very well in our first two games. That is the most important skill on defense is tackling.”
On whether the defense has exceeded expectations considering the injuries
“I would say no because we thought we were going to be pretty good. I think we’ve lived up to expectations. Unfortunately we’ve been missing guys, but so is everybody in the country to a certain extent. We seem to have more than our fair share (of injuries), but nobody cares; in fact people are glad you’re beat up, especially your opponents. You just have to have the next man up mentality, and that was the case. With the linebackers, Levani Damuni stepped up in place of Karene Reid; Sione Fotu gave us some good snaps at linebacker as well. The defensive ends we were rotating through there did a nice job as well. We hope to get Connor O’Toole back in the next week or two. But that’s the mentality, next man up.”
On Nate Johnson being QB2 on the depth chart
“I would say based on the whole body of work that we’ve seen, Nate deserves the chance. He’ll be the starter if Cam’s not available. That’s where we’re at, that’s after a lot of evaluation and giving everybody the opportunity…to show what they can do. Nate was very poised on that last drive. I think he made some outstanding decisions, outstanding plays. Mikey Matthews; I’ve been bragging on him ever since Spring ball. Really came up with a couple clutch receptions in that final drive.”
On whether they trust Johnson’s ability to throw
“More and more. He’s still a work in progress in that regard, and there will still be some growing pains in that regard. But he has really improved leaps and bounds over the course of the last year.”
On the offensive line
“Very good. A lot of confidence in that offensive line. There’s a lot of experienced guys up there, with the exception of (Spencer Fano) at left tackle. (Fano) got much better this last game. Played well against Florida and played even better in this game on Saturday. We’ve given up very few sacks; the quarterback usually has time. I think we had tree sacks against us, and one of them shouldn’t have happened. Total confidence in the O-Line, both pass protection-wise and in the run blocking. We expect that to be a strong suit for us all season.”
On WR Mikey Matthews
“First of all, his toughness. Love how tough he is. He is a tough kid. The lights are not too bright. When he goes in the game he’s not in awe, he’s not overwhelmed. He’s a baller. He goes out and makes plays. For a true freshman to do some of the things he’s doing is really good. Hopefully he’ll continue to make even more plays in the future and gain confidence. You can see his ability to make plays, so we’ve got to do a better job utilizing him. He’s one of those guys that just comes in, a lot like Britain Covey…who’s ready. The moment’s not too big, he doesn’t have the deer in the headlights look. He’s got that fire in his eyes and he’s ready to go. But like I said, his toughness…he’s taken shots. He pops right back up and comes back for more.”