Everything Utah's Kyle Whittingham said at his UCLA week press conference
Utah has a major matchup this week with 18th-ranked and unbeaten UCLA. The Bruins are coming off a 40-32 home win over then-No. 15 Washington and playing with a ton of momentum. Similarly, Utah has won four straight and none of them have been close. The defending Pac-12 champs will head into the Rose Bowl Saturday with hopes of keeping their unbeaten conference record intact.
On Monday, coach Kyle Whittingham met with reporters to break down last week’s win over Oregon State, the challenges presented by UCLA’s star-studded backfield, coach firings throughout the sport, and more.
Here’s everything Whittingham said, with video of the press conference at the bottom.
“Saturday, good effort by our guys. Offensively, didn’t pile up a ton of statistics, but we were effective in the red zone — 100% in the red zone, except for the last drive, in which we weren’t trying to score on that last drive, so we really don’t count that. So, perfect in the red zone.
“Defensively, (we) were perfect in the red zone as well. I believe they were 0-for-5 (scoring touchdowns). (Three) field goals, a couple turnovers, so a lot of good stuff. Run defense in the first half was not great. Kind of soft. Shored that up in the second half. Cam (Rising) played exceptionally well, Clark (Phillips III) obviously played exceptionally well. Clark was the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week in the nation. That’s a great honor for him. Like I said, Cam did a great job running the offense, was extremely accurate, took care of the football.
“Zero turnovers, four takeaways. That really was the biggest stat in the game was the plus-four turnover margin. Good win. Oregon State is a good football team. Our guys showed up and made a bunch of plays, and that was the result.
“Now we’re getting ready to prepare for the Bruins. Road trip. They’re playing extremely well, 5-0. Playing with a lot of confidence. Their quarterback is playing well. Should be a good matchup, great kickoff time, I think it’s a 12:30 p.m. PT kick. Should be, like I said, a good Pac-12 contest.”
On the slow starts offensively
“We had four three-and-outs in the game, which is too many. I think we only had 11 possessions. The possessions seem to get less and less. Twenty years ago you’d get 15, 16 possessions a game. Now, it’s much less than that. We didn’t start with a scoring drive initially, but we got it in the endzone. I think we had 21 at the half and then put a few more points on the board in the second half. Ideally, you’d like to start with a touchdown drive right out of the gate. That hasn’t happened many times this season. But we’ll keep working on it and trying to get better. You judge the game in its entirety, not in segments. We just gotta try to simulate starting fast in practice. Hopefully that carries over to the games.”
On UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson
“You can see him getting better and better. He’s playing his best football right now, from my vantage point. Chip (Kelly) has done a great job of developing him. Not that he was not good before, but he’s really taken his game to another level. Seems to be very poised. Makes plays, takes care of the ball, and he’s a dual-threat, which is the biggest issue for us — his ability to run as well as throw the football. That’s always a tough calling for your defensive coordinator and a tough situation for your defense when you’ve got a guy that can extend plays like he can.”
On how already playing Florida’s Anthony Richardson might help
“That does help. They’re similar as far as their styles of play. Arizona State’s guy was pretty athletic as well. We’ve faced some athletic quarterbacks this year. That will be good preparation. A lot of the things we learned in that game, hopefully we can apply to this game.”
On using five down defensive linemen against Oregon State
“It went well for us. We did a little bit the game before as well against Arizona State. More so in this past game. You want your best 11 out there and we’ve got a defensive end group that we feel very good about. We’ve got five guys that are getting a lot of playing time. Just makes you more stout up front when you can have those five d-linemen in there. Also, with the ability of Jonah Elliss and Connor O’Toole and those guys to cover tight ends on occasion when needed, that really gives you some flexibility. That’s something you’ll continue to see, at least in the foreseeable future.”
On getting more push from the offensive line
“First of all, Oregon State’s linebackers, I was very impressed by their linebackers. I think they’re all-conference guys. Those guys are active and tough. Really the problem we had, not only not getting the push as you mentioned, but as I talked about after the game, hitting the run-throughs. They did a good job of triggering the run through their gaps. Our eyes weren’t in the right spot and not able to pick up those run-throughs. We gotta do a better job coaching it and preparing our guys for that. But knocking people off the ball is really where it starts. That’s the essence of having a physical offensive line, being able to knock people off the ball in the run game. We just, for whatever reason, are not living up to our potential in that area, I think. So gotta just keep working on it. Everything’s a work in progress, but that in particular right now.”
On the wide receivers
“I would say without a doubt that they picked up the slack. Money Parks made some plays, Jaylen Dixon only had two touches but two touchdowns. Devaughn Vele had a big game — seven catches, almost 100 yards. Short answer is they did a good job of picking up that slack (without Brant Kuithe). We need to get Dalton Kincaid some more targets. I think he only had three catches and that’s an underutilization of him. He’s a tremendous player. We’ll get him more involved.”
On conversations with Jaylen Dixon before the season
“I needed to hear that he was all in and that he had got himself together and was in a good place from a mental standpoint. That (withdrawing from the portal) wasn’t just by default, that he had nothing else going. I needed to know that he was sincerely and genuinely wanting to be a part of this football team and be a guy that would come in and be a great teammate, do whatever he was asked to do, and play his role to the utmost of his ability. And that’s what he expressed to me.”
On if he’s encountered a situation where a player entered the portal and then decided to stay
“Once or twice, I’m sure it has. I think Jaylen might be the only guy that came back once he was in the portal. I can’t say for certain. That’s a very unique situation. Our policy is pretty much if you go into the portal, you’re pretty much moving on.”
On the running backs
“I think the backs did a pretty good job of taking what was there. Great backs, when there’s nothing there, they still make 3 yards. That’s the distinction of a great running back, to be able to make more than what’s blocked. The main problem was just people in our backfield, whether it was a linebacker triggering or a defensive lineman slanting and popping through. That was the main issue. Everyone can always do better and be more effective. Cam was our best rusher on Saturday. That was very evident. He went for 73 yards and made some really big plays with his legs for us. That’s the advantage of a dual-threat guy. Cam is a dual-threat and faster than people think. He’s deceptively fast. I don’t think people, until they play against him, grasp that.”
On Micah Bernard
“We’d like to get Micah involved as much as we can. He’s been a little banged up, hasn’t been 100%, but he’s a courageous kid and he’s been out there. He has been our most consistent back, he’s our best pass protector, catches the ball out of the backfield the very best out of all the backs. He brings a lot to the table. We’ll continue to have him play a prominent role for the offense.”
On how he felt the offense adjusted to Brant Kuithe’s absence
“Pretty good. I think we made a concerted effort with a number of guys to pick up that slack. Our personnel groups reflected that as well. We were in far less multiple tight end sets than we had been all season prior with Brant. The lead set last week was 11 personnel, which is a one-tight end set. But Thomas Yassmin came in and contributed a little bit. Munir McClain made a nice catch and run-after-catch. Logan Kendall does the dirty work. He doesn’t get a lot of catches, but he is a very efficient blocker and does a lot for us in that capacity.”
On whether Tavion Thomas is doing what’s required to get back on the field
“Yep. So far he’s been on track and barring any setbacks this week you should see him more and more as the weeks go on. Again, barring setbacks. You’ve gotta be consistent and you’ve gotta be accountable.”
On why he prefers day games to night games
“Just because I hate sitting around waiting all day to play. You want to go out and compete. It’s no fun just sitting around for 10 hours, 12 hours waiting for kickoff. As a player, I felt the same way. You want to get out there and get playing as soon as you can. No different as a coach.
“Road games, you get home at 4 or 5 in the morning, that’s miserable for the players. They’re trying to recover and get ready for the next week and to get a horrible night’s sleep because of when you’re getting home, that takes its toll on them. As coaches, we can work on the plane going home — we’ve got the computers and everything — so it doesn’t affect us as much, but I’d much rather see the players get home at 7 or 8 at night rather than 4 in the morning.”
On UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet
“One of the best, we’re certain. He’s really good. He’s a big, strong back. Good vision. He’s got some speed to him. He’s tough. Yeah, he’s going to be, if not the best, certainly one of the best we’ve come across this season.”
On the team’s performance after five games
“I think we’ve gotten better each week since Week 1. We’ve talked about that plenty that we didn’t play our best football in Week 1. But since then, I think we’ve taken a step forward every single week, this past week included, obviously. If you want to try to win a championship, that’s got to happen. You’ve got to be on that upward trajectory from Game 1 to Game 12.”
On Mohamoud Diabate’s return
“OK. Not as well as he can play, he was rusty. But that’s to be expected with his downtime. He wasn’t able to do a whole lot when he was on the shelf. But he did make some really nice plays and we expect him to keep getting up to speed. I’m sure he’ll be a lot more effective this week than he was last week. He didn’t play bad, he just didn’t play as good as his capabilities.”
On in-season coaching firings
“When the signing day got move up, that was one of the things that was, I don’t want to say predicted to happen, but could happen. It’s all about recruiting, and if you wait until the 11th hour to fire a guy and you’ve got signing day coming up two or three weeks later, that puts you in a spot. I think that’s really the main impetus for early dismissals. Twofold: to try to get No. 1 the recruiting, and secondly to start your search right away to maybe beat someone to the punch on a guy that might be available.
“I don’t think it’s gonna change. I don’t think we’re gonna go backwards on that. I think it’s going to continue to be just a callous, cold-blooded deal. But you make enough money where they expect things and you’ve gotta produce. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
On if there are any conversations with the staff during the season about handling open positions around the league and potential interest in their guys
“No, nothing. Zero during the season. It’s all focused on what we’ve got, the task at hand. That’s an offseason discussion. Really, in June I have exit interviews with all my coaches each year. Evaluations if you want to term it (that). That’s part of the conversation, their goals and desires and where they see themselves three, five, 10 years from now. If I know, I can help them any way I can. But during the season it’s just focused on the task at hand and there is no conversation about any of that stuff.”