Football: Utah looking to utilize tight ends

Junior tight end, Jake Murphy, runs the ball against the Wildcats defense on Sep. 07, 2013. //Chad Zavala
Junior tight end, Jake Murphy, runs the ball against the Wildcats defense on Sep. 07, 2013. //Chad Zavala

Before the Utes hit the field this season, there was a lot of talk concerning the idea that getting the ball to tight ends Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga would lead to a potent air attack. So far, quarterback Travis Wilson has only hit a tight end two times in 47 passes.
Despite the lack of connections to his tight ends, Wilson’s passing game has been stellar. He ranks third in the nation in passing yards per completion with 18.26. However, head coach Kyle Whittingham maintains the preseason mindset — Utah needs to utilize its tight ends.
“We had a little more production with the tight ends today, but not as much as we need to,” Whittingham said after Saturday’s 70-7 shellacking of Weber State. “[Murphy and Tonga] are two excellent playmakers, and we have got to get them more involved. We’re fairly certain that we’re not utilizing them well enough.”
Wilson is undoubtedly aware of the weapons he has at his disposal. After the first two games of 2013, he is making better decisions, which are leading to more success than he had as a freshman.
Although Whittingham would like to see the ball in Murphy and Tonga’s hands more often, Wilson said it’s not his top priority.
“I want to try to get it to everybody,” he said. “I want to really spread the ball around, but ultimately it’s just whatever I get, I’m going to try and take. Sometimes people aren’t getting the ball as much. It’s just trying to find the open guy.”
Murphy is responsible for both of the receptions credited to tight ends thus far, one of them being a touchdown. Meanwhile, Tonga has been left empty-handed.
Regardless of his lack of catches, Tonga feels he is still making his presence felt with downfield blocking, route running and executing the game plan. He is happy with Wilson’s decision making and Utah’s early success.
“Travis has been doing a great job getting people the ball,” Tonga said. “As far as the offensive direction, we’re still really comfortable with it, still real pleased with all of our wins, and that’s where we are heading from here.”
He still wants more, though.
“Everybody wants the ball because everyone thinks that they can do something good with it,” he said. “What I’ve been asked to do so far, I’ve been doing to the best of my ability, and that’s where we’re at.”
Focusing on the present, Tonga said the Utes are feeling confident as they prepare to face Oregon State this weekend. Even though the Beavers have struggled some out of the gate, Utah is taking game preparation seriously.
“We can’t afford to [take opponents lightly] at any time. That’s actually something that happened to … Oregon State,” he said in reference to the Beavers’ 49-46 season-opening loss to FCS team Eastern Washington. “So, if anything, we have something to learn from them — to never look past the week that we are at.”