Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon on Utah

UCLA needs two more wins to clinch the Pac-12 South, but closing out its schedule on the road won’t be easy. Before next week’s regular-season finale against USC, the Bruins must travel to Salt Lake City and upset No. 18 Utah. The team has come back to Earth after a 6-0 start that vaulted them to third place in the AP poll, but is still the type of tough, defensive-minded squad that often spells trouble for UCLA. The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Kyle Goon answered five questions about the Utes.

(Here are the questions I answered for the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.)

1. Utah is likely out of the playoff picture after brief stay in the national top five, but it’s still in the midst of its best season since joining the Pac-12. What’s the bar the rest of the way for closing out on what players or fans would consider a “successful” year?

I think fans would really like to go to the Rose Bowl. The Utes have never gone to that game, which — despite its lesser importance in the College Football Playoff structure — is still the Grand Old Lady of the Pac-12. It’s a status symbol that Utah would like to attain, and since it’s in Los Angeles, a lot of people would probably make the trip. Of course this year, it will be the Pac-12 champion that goes, and Utah doesn’t control its own destiny (USC has to lose). I think winning out against UCLA and Colorado would also probably welcomed as a success, as long as Utah finishes first or second in the Pac-12 South.

2. How big of a blow to Utah’s offense is the loss of Devontae Booker? What’s the plan for the Utes moving forward?

It’s a huge blow. Booker is among the top 10 players in all-purpose yards per game (157 ypg), and Utah’s offense accounts for his production a lot to set up play action passing and keep the box stacked. The Utes don’t really have a guy who can replace Booker’s power and vision, as well as his receiving production. The Utes will turn to Joe Williams, who showed some promise last week and is probably faster than Booker. Continue reading

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First look: UCLA at No. 18 Utah

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham waves to fans after defeating UCLA, 30-28, at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 4, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham waves to fans after defeating UCLA, 30-28, at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 4, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA Bruins (7-3, 4-3) at No. 18 Utah (8-2, 5-2)
Kickoff:
Saturday, Nov. 21, 12:30 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium
TV: FOX (Joe Davis, Brady Quinn, Kris Budden)
Radio: AM 570 (Bill Roth, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Scouting report: Now in his 11th year at Utah, head coach Kyle Whittingham needs just one more win to secure his best conference record since his program joined the Pac-12. … The Utes have only allowed eight rushing touchdowns this season. No one in the Pac-12 has given up fewer than 14. Their pass defense hasn’t been as stingy, allowing 7.0 yards per attempt (sixth) and 17 touchdowns. However, they do lead the league with 16 interceptions. … Utah ranks eighth in the Pac-12 in yards per pass attempt (7.2) and — somewhat surprisingly — ninth in yards per carry. But no other tailback in the country is within even 20 carries of Devontae Booker’s FBS-high workload. … The special teams unit isn’t as exceptional as it was last season, but reigning Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett is still around. He is third nationally at 47.1 yards per punt. … Utah hasn’t lost a home game yet this season, and set the top-two attendance records in Rice-Eccles Stadium history against Michigan (47,825) and Cal (47,798).

Series history: UCLA has a 10-3 all-time record against Utah, but the two teams have split their four meetings as Pac-12 opponents. The Bruins won by a touchdown in 2012 and 2013, while the Utes survived by two points last year.

Key players:

QB Travis Wilson, Sr., 6-7, 233 — 163/246, 1,806 yards, 12 TD, 9 INT
— He threw seven touchdowns to three interceptions in his first five appearances, but has fallen to a five-to-six ratio in his last four games. Also ranks third among Pac-12 quarterbacks with 368 rushing yards. Continue reading

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Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon talks Utah

UCLA returns to the Rose Bowl on Saturday to host Utah, a team that — despite struggling since moving to the Pac-12 — has lost to the Bruins by only a touchdown in their last two meetings. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon answered five questions about the Utes.

1. Utah won four Pac-12 games in 2011, three in 2012, then two in 2013. Even if Kyle Whittingham’s job isn’t truly at risk this season, how much of a leash does he have moving forward?

We don’t have a concrete answer except to say that it is fairly tight. Our columnist Gordon Monson wrote about assistant coaches contracts in August, which haven’t been rolled over as they usually are. It seems like the baseline of success is winning six games and going to a bowl, which the Utes haven’t done in two years. If they don’t meet that standard, it seems the athletic department is poised to make at least big changes on the staff.

Whittingham has built up a lot of faith over the years by winning games and helping Utah be in position to make the Pac-12, and a lot of fans would like to see him stay. Still, many are wondering if he’s the guy who can lead the program to success in the Pac-12 era. He needs to show some kind of progress this year, which at this point is three Pac-12 wins, to keep his seat surely out of the flame.

2. After throwing nearly an interception for every touchdown over his first two seasons, Travis Wilson hasn’t been picked off yet. Does he look like a significantly better quarterback, or is he due for another turnover-heavy game? (Also, is he one bad hit away from potentially risking his career again?)

Two weeks ago, I would’ve said Travis Wilson is significantly better. The two games since have clouded the signs of progress. Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Should USC hire Ed Orgeron?

— After an upset of Stanford, many USC players called for the school to retain Ed Orgeron as head coach. NBC Sports’ Chris Huston, also known as the Heisman Pundit, argues against removing the “interim” tag.

— Utah quarterback Travis Wilson’s career might be over after a post-concussion exam revealed a pre-existing neurological condition.

— Washington State has extended Mike Leach through the 2018 season.

— Arizona State’s secondary has a club called the, uh, “Bird Gang.” Members must abide by three rules. Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Utah quarterback Travis Wilson struggling

— Once a rising star, Utah’s sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson doesn’t look the same these days.

— A strong column from the Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen, on the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA.

— After a stint at Louisiana-Monroe, Arizona State defensive back Robert Nelson is living the dream in Tempe.

— Does the Pac-12 need an injury report? Seattle Times columnist Bud Withers says yes, citing the status of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Continue reading

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