What Whittingham said about Utah’s matchup with UCLA
Kyle Whittingham: “Saturday, good effort by our guys. Offensively, didn’t pile up a bunch of statistics, but we were effective in the red zone. One-hundred percent in the red zone, except for the last drive, in which we weren’t trying to score on that last drive, so we really don’t count that. So, perfect in the red zone. Defensively…couple turnovers, so a lot of good stuff. Run defense in the first half was not great. Kind of soft. We shored that up in the second half. Cameron Rising played exceptionally well, obviously Clark Phillips III played exceptionally well. Clark was the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week in the nation; that’s a great honor for him. Like I said, Cam did a great job running the offense, was extremely accurate, took care of the football. Zero turnovers, four takeaways. That really was the biggest stat in the game was the plus-four turnover margin. Good win, Oregon State is a good football team. Our guys showed up and made a bunch of plays, and that was the result.”
“Now we’re getting ready to prepare for the Bruins. Road trip. They’re playing extremely well, 5-0. Playing with a lot of confidence. Their quarterback is playing well. Should be a good matchup, great kickoff time, I think it’s a 12: 30 p.m. [Pacific] kick. Should be, like I said, a good Pac-12 contest.”
Question: Thoughts on the slow starts offensively?
Kyle Whittingham: “We had four three-and-outs in the game, which is too many. I think we only had 11 possessions. The possessions seem to get less and less; 20 years ago you’d get 15, 16 possessions a game. Now, it’s much less than that…I think we had 21 [points] at the half and then put a few more points on the board in the second half. Ideally, you’d like to start with a touchdown drive right out of the gate. That hasn’t happened many times this season. But we’ll keep working on it and trying to get better. You judge the game in its entirety, not in segments. We just have to try to simulate starting fast in practice. Hopefully that carries over to the games.”
Question: Thoughts on UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson?
Kyle Whittingham: “You can see him getting better and better. He’s playing his best football right now, from my vantage point. Chip [Kelly] has done a great job of developing him. Not that he wasn’t good before, but he’s really taken his game to another level. Seems to be very poised. Makes plays, takes care of the ball, and he’s a dual-threat, which is the biggest issue for us is his ability to run as well as throw the football. That’s always a tough calling for your defensive coordinator and a tough situation for your defense when you’ve got a guy that can extend plays like he can.”
Question: How much did facing Anthony Richardson help in preparing for DTR?
Kyle Whittingham: “That does help. They’re similar as far as their styles of play. Arizona State’s guy was pretty athletic as well. We’ve faced some athletic quarterbacks this year. That will be good preparation. A lot of the things we learned in that game, hopefully we can apply to this game.”
Question: Why did you use five down defensive linemen against Oregon State?
Kyle Whittingham: “It went well for us. We did a little bit the game before as well against Arizona State. More so in this past game [vs. Oregon State]. You want your best 11 out there and we’ve got a defensive end group that we feel very good about. We’ve got five guys that are getting a lot of playing time. Just makes you more stout up front when you can have those five defensive linemen in there. Also, with the ability of Jonah Elliss and Connor O’Toole and those guys to cover tight ends on occasion when needed, that really gives you flexibility. So that’s something you’ll continue to see at least in the foreseeable future.”
Question: Thoughts on the “push” of the offensive line and how you can improve that?
Kyle Whittingham: “First of all, Oregon State’s linebackers, I was very impressed by their linebackers. I think they’re all-conference guys. Those guys are active and tough. Really the problem we had, not only not getting the push as you mentioned; as I talked about after the game, hitting the run throughs. They did a good job of triggering the run through their gaps. Our eyes weren’t in the right spot and not able to pick up those run throughs. We have to do a better job coaching it and preparing our guys for that. But knocking people off the ball is really where it starts. That’s the essence of having a physical offensive line, is being able to knock people off the ball in the run game. For whatever reason, we are not living up to our potential in that area, I think. So we just have to keep working on it. Everything’s a work in progress, but that in particular right now.”
Question: How would you evaluate the wide receivers performance against Oregon State?
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Kyle Whittingham: “I would say without a doubt that they picked up the slack. Money Parks made some plays, Jaylen Dixon only had two touches but two touchdowns. Devaughn Vele had a big game; seven catches, almost 100 yards. Short answer is they did a good job of picking up that slack. We need to get Dalton Kincaid some more targets; I think he only had three catches and that’s an underutilization of him. He’s a tremendous player. We’ll get him more involved.”
Question: Thoughts on the running backs?
Kyle Whittingham: “I think the backs did a pretty good job of taking what was there. Great backs, when there’s nothing there, they still make three yards. That’s the distinction of a great running back is to be able to make more than what’s blocked. The main problem was people in our backfield, whether it was a linebacker triggering or a defensive lineman slanting and popping through. That was the main issue. Everyone can always do better and be more effective. Cam [Rising] was our best rusher on Saturday. That was very evident. He went for  yards and made some really big plays with his legs for us. That’s the advantage of a dual-threat guy. Cam is a dual-threat, faster than people think. He’s deceptively fast. I don’t think people, until they play against him, grasp that.”
Question: What about Micah Bernard?
Kyle Whittingham: “We’d like to get Micah involved as much as we can. He’s been a little banged up, hasn’t been 100%, but he’s a courageous kid and he’s been out there. You’re right; he has been our most consistent back and he’s our best pass protector. Catches the ball out of the backfield the very best out of all the backs. He brings a lot to the table. We’ll continue to have him play a prominent role for the offense.”
Question: What do you expect from UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet?
Kyle Whittingham: “One of the best, we’re certain. He’s really good. Big, strong back. Good vision. He’s got some speed to him. He’s tough. Yeah, he’s going to be if not the best, certainly one of the best we’ve come across this season.”
Question: How would you assess the teams performance through six weeks?
Kyle Whittingham: “I think we’ve gotten better each week since Week 1. We’ve talked about that plenty that we didn’t play our best football in Week 1. But since then, I think we’ve taken a step forward every single week, this past week included, obviously. If you want to try to win a championship, that’s got to happen. You’ve got to be on that upward trajectory from game one to game 12.”
Question: How would you assess Diabate’s performance in his return?
Kyle Whittingham: “OK. Not as well as he can play, he was rusty. But that’s to be expected with his downtime; he wasn’t able to do a whole lot when he was on the shelf. But he did make some really nice plays and we expect him to keep getting up to speed. I’m sure he’ll be a lot more effective this week than he was last week. He didn’t play bad, he just didn’t play as good as his capabilities.”
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.