Change of pace

By Bryan Chouinard , Asst. Sports Editor

It’s the first week of November. The Utes are ranked 14th in the country and are undefeated in the Mountain West Conference.

But for some reason, whether it be the warm temperatures or the fact that Ute fans don’t know who will be under center Saturday, it feels much like late August. The Utes are 7-1, but find themselves in the same predicament they were in before the season opener against Utah State: Right in the middle of a quarterback controversy.

After the first half of last week’s game against Wyoming, junior quarterback Terrance Cain was pulled for true freshman Jordan Wynn, who led the Utes on the comeback trail to clinch their seventh win of the season.

“(Terrance was) disappointed but supportive,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “Nobody likes to lose their job and that’s not necessarily the case at this point in time. But what we expect out of Terrance (is) exactly what we got out of Jordan when Jordan was on the sidelines supporting Terrance.”

Wynn, despite throwing more incomplete passes than Cain on Saturday, led the Utes on two drives that ended in touchdowns, something Cain failed to do in the first half. Despite the lack of playing time, Wynn has already made an impression on his teammates, including center Zane Taylor.

“(Wynn) is definitely a very mature football player,” Taylor said. “He did a great job in spring ball and I think that paid off a lot for him.”

No matter who has been under center for Utah, the Utes have managed to squeeze out close wins during the past four weeks, despite the offense struggling.

“You can never complain about a win,” Taylor said. “But it definitely is a little unnerving coming away with so many close victories. It’s been putting a lot of stress on me and even my wife.”

Even though the Utes have been able to move the ball as well as continue to pile up wins, the Utes have struggled to find the back of the end zone after getting inside the red zone. Out of 28 trips to the red zone in 2009, the Utes have scored a touchdown only 13 times. Utah has also struggled in recent weeks on the third down, converting on third down just 40 percent of the time on the season.

Penalties on both sides of the ball have also plagued the Utes, as they’ve accumulated 62 penalties in 20098212;20 more than their opponents.

With a date with the No. 6 ranked Horned Frogs right around the corner, many fear that this weekend’s battle with the 0-8 Lobos could prove to be a trap game, as many are already looking to TCU.

Whittingham said he believes that not only is his team mature enough to not look over the Lobos, but he also believes the Utes have enough improvements to make to keep themselves busy before New Mexico.

“All we have to do is put on the film of ourselves and realize how much work we have to work on and how far away we are from being the type of team we want to be and that will keep us occupied,” Whittingham said. “We won’t have any time to look forward.”

The one aspect of the Utah offense that has continued to improve with each passing week is the running game8212;more specifically, running back Eddie Wide. Wide is coming off the best game of his career, in which he rushed for 135 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown. The Wyoming game was not only a career high in yards for Wide, but carries also.

“However many times they give me the ball, I’m going to run it,” Wide said. “If they want to give it to me more, I’ll do it.”

Coaches said earlier in the season that the ideal amount of touches for Wide in a game would be between 15 and 17, but since becoming the starter, Wide has gotten at least 17 touches in every game.

“Handing the ball off to Eddie Wide has been a good thing for us lately,” Whittingham said. “We’re just trying to stay balanced and make sure that we get the calls tailored to the strengths of our personnel.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Ute fans have watched cornerbacks R.J. Stanford and Brandon Burton mature right before their eyes. The two corners who started the season as a liability have grown into reasons the Utes are third in the league and seventh in the nation in passing defense. The Utes are only allowing 159.2 passing yards per game and are getting better each week.

“(The secondary) has grown each game,” Stanford said. “There has been a lot of criticism, so we just try to make a statement each game, improve and work on things to get better each game.”

The Utes will kick off against the Lobos at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

[email protected]

Richard Payson/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Eddie Wide has been a constant performer in the Utah offense week in and week out. Wide had a career day aginst Wyoming with 135 rushing yards.