Football: Secondary Clicking, Making Strides Together

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Kiffer Creveling

University of Utah freshman defensive back Jaylon Johnson (7) lines up at the snap in an NCAA Football game vs. The San Jose State Spartans in Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brittni Meservy

After a much needed bye week, the University of Utah football team (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will return to the gridiron for its homecoming game against Stanford on Saturday, Oct. 7. In addition to all the activities and events taking place during the week to honor the university’s history, head coach Kyle Whittingham is preparing his team to close the festivities on a high note.

“[There’s] a lot of stuff going on this week,” Whittingham said. “But obviously, the focal point is the football game.”

This week, the Utes remained at No. 20 in the AP poll, but they moved up one spot in the Coaches’ poll to No. 18. With its undefeated record, Utah is leading the way in the South division. Following behind the Utes are No. 14 USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado.

“I’d say it is surprising that there’s only one undefeated [team] left in the south this early,” Whittingham said. “But I think it speaks to the balance of the division and the league as a whole.” 

Secondary flourishing  

Before the season started, Whittingham made it known that he thought the secondary could be a positive force for the Utes. Four games into the season, he believes they’re beginning to show what kind of impact they can have in the backfield.

Whittingham and cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah have confidence in the group and their ability to tackle, which will be important for Utah to showcase when Bryce Love and Stanford come to Salt Lake City.

“Our secondary is as good of tackling secondary as we’ve had in a lot of years, which will be important in our next game,” Whittingham said. “Hopefully not too important because if he’s [Love] at the third level a bunch of the game, then we’re not in good shape.”

Freshman corner Julian Blackmon earned praise and recognition from Whittingham for what he has been able to do in a Utah uniform. He said Blackmon is one of the “best tackling corners we’ve had here in a while.” Jaylon Johnson and Casey Hughes were also mentioned by Whittingham as two players who are also showing that they are capable of making tackles.

“It’s nice to have a unit that enjoys tackling,” Shah said. “I think that we’re starting to see a little bit of the fruit of our labor start to manifest itself in certain games.”

Williams on standby

The question regarding who will take the field as the starting quarterback on Saturday night, Tyler Huntley or Troy Williams, remains unanswered.

“We’ll see who’s going to start on Saturday,” Whittingham said. “Everything’s up in the air. There’s a lot of positions that are up in the air.”

Huntley was injured during Utah’s road game against Arizona, allowing Williams, who was beaten out for the job after starting every game this past season at the position, a chance to take over the offense in the second quarter.

Although Williams was in attendance at the weekly press conference on Monday, he said he hadn’t been told if he would or wouldn’t be starting against the Cardinal.

“I’m just going to continue to prepare myself and be ready when my name is called,” Williams said.

As for Huntley, he is still going through the evaluation process every day, according to Whittingham.

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@Britt_Colindres