Football: Utes to focus on O-line, QBs

Trevor Reilly along with the Utes defense during the loss at USC.  Reilly leads the team in tackles and sacks.   //Conor Barry
Trevor Reilly along with the Utes defense during the loss at USC. Reilly leads the team in tackles and sacks.
//Conor Barry

As the Utes work through their bye week in preparation to play Pac-12 South leader Arizona State on Nov. 9, the top priority for Utah’s coaching staff will be to determine if quarterback Travis Wilson is still the man who should start as the signal caller.
Wilson has been relieved of his duties in two consecutive games, but at this point Adam Schulz is the only other option coaches are considering for the starting role.
“I’m always happy for Adam whenever he gets to go in, but I wish I would’ve had the opportunity to play the rest of the game,” Wilson said in reference to the Utes’ loss Saturday at USC. “I know all the guys around me have faith in me to get the job done … I just gotta make sure I make smarter decisions with the football.”
True freshman Conner Manning currently sits in the third position on the depth chart, but Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said it is too late in the season to pull Manning’s redshirt and get him some playing time.
“Conner Manning was never really a serious consideration. He’s a true freshman. He’s probably not quite ready for a situation like that,” Whittingham said. “In fairness to Conner and thinking objectively, we don’t think that it’s that smart of a move at this point in time.”
Wilson’s troubles are ones the Utes hope they can remedy through the two weeks of practice leading up to the contest against the Sun Devils. While Wilson has been dealing with a hand injury, both he and Whittingham say that it’s no excuse for his lackluster performance.
Turnovers to blame for losses
In Utah’s last two games, Wilson has thrown for a total of 66 yards with four interceptions, a lost fumble and one touchdown. Schulz also threw one interception in last weekend’s matchup against the Trojans. Whittingham attributed the ensuing losses to his team’s deficiencies in the turnover margin.
“You’re gonna win probably zero games a season doing that. We’ve got to get it corrected,” Whittingham said. “In our losses it’s showed up and in our wins it’s been a reverse. So it’s pretty apparent what our issue is.”
In addition to the lack of turnovers the Utes have had in their favor, other parts of the offense have been reeling since their big win over Stanford.
“One thing for certain is that our offensive line needs to play better,” Whittingham said. “We didn’t protect very well, we didn’t run block very well, we didn’t take any stress off the quarterback with an effective run game. So it’s not just the quarterback. There’s a lot of things involved. We didn’t catch the ball particularly well. It was a collective effort and not a very good one overall.”
Turnovers have not just been a problem on offense, however. Whittingham said the Utes’ defense needs to create more takeaways and they will continue to work on that in practice this week.
Shifting focus
After a strong start to the season, Utah hoped to have a chance to win the Pac-12 South division. Now owning a record of 4-4 with just four games remaining, that goal is out the window for the Utes. Their new focus is winning at least two of their remaining contests to become bowl eligible.
“That’s my whole reason for these next four games, is to get these seniors to a bowl game,” Wilson said. “I wanna play hard for them and I know I haven’t lately, but that’s something I gotta correct and I gotta make sure we get to a bowl game.”