Utah receivers ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ after better performance against San Diego State

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SALT LAKE CITY — It was no secret to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham that San Diego State had given up a lot of yards in the passing game to opposing teams this season.

In the first two weeks of the season, the Aztecs gave up a total of 557 passing yards to opposing teams, or an average of 278.5 yards per game. And while a currently surging Arizona team racked up 299 yards on San Diego State, it was Idaho State – an FCS team – that managed to nearly replicate the success. with 258 yards in a 38-7 loss.

Conversely, Utah had given up just 210 total passing yards all season before Saturday (that number only jumped to 270 after a 35-7 win over San Diego State). Saturday).

That’s why Whittingham spoke freely last Monday about his side needing to test the Aztecs’ defense in the passing game to see if they’ve made any adjustments.

“You try to look at what other people have been successful at and implement some of the same patterns and philosophies and see if they’ve fixed it,” Whittingham said. “It’s common in football, you see a weakness that someone has exploited, you go and test that and see if they’ve managed to fix that or if it’s still a weakness for them.”

That’s exactly what Utah tried to do on Saturday when the first play of the game was a full pass from quarterback Cam Rising to receiver Jaylon Dixon for a 13-yard pickup. From there, Utah continued with their plan to attack San Diego State’s defense from the air, hoping for another big night in the passing game.

The problem was that Utah got icy on offense.

Rising missed passes as his targets failed to separate from the San Diego State defense, and there was no consistency or flow to the offense. It all led to stalled drives and a first-quarter shutout for the first time this season.

Maybe San Diego State figured out its defense in the passing game — or Utah was playing so badly.

Whittingham said the offense “could never get into a rhythm” as the Aztecs were “leaning and moving” to confuse Utah’s offense. It worked loud and clear.

“We just didn’t get the move that well in the first quarter and a half and just found ways to kill drives,” Whittingham said.

But that all changed on a 15-yard draw as he rode the seam to veteran receiver Solomon Enis with 11 minutes left in the second quarter. It was the momentum play Utah needed, and the one that proved to be the panacea to offensive woes.

The surge and offense notched three touchdowns – a 30-yard pass to an open Brant Kuithe, a 13-yard pass in the end zone to Enis on a vital third-and-4 in the red zone and a 15-yard pass to Devaughn Vele at the end zone sideline for a trailing catch and score – in the second quarter and quickly took control of what had previously been slow and boring play, offensively.

Devaughn Vele (17) of the Utah Utes misses a catch as he takes on the San Diego State Aztecs in Salt Lake City on Saturday, September 17, 2022.
Utah Utes’ Devaughn Vele (17) misses a catch while playing against the San Diego State Aztecs in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo: Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

Before that capture of Enis early in the second quarter, Rising was just 5 of 14 assists and struggling to make records. After that, the junior quarterback had just three misses and ended his night early throwing for a career-high 224 yards and four touchdowns on 18 of 30 passes.

But more importantly for Utah, it was kind of a night out for the wide receivers who had been tasked with being more involved in the game plan this season after failing to get many goals — most of them. passing attempts were previously directed at Utah’s dynamic tight ends or at its stable of running backs. It was time for wide receivers to get more involved.

Kuithe has always led the team in receiving yards with 64 yards on five catches, but Vele, Enis and Dixon were more in the action (11 targets) and were factors in the team’s score – Vele finished with two touchdowns and 38 yards on three catches. .

It was a small step in the right direction, and one that showed Utah receivers can be more of an asset in the game, Vele said.

“It’s good to start getting the recognition that we’ve worked so hard for,” Vele said. “A lot of guys in the room – it was tough at first trying to stick with that, but we’ve got a good group of guys. We’re a lot of selfless guys; we understand that the team always comes first, so we just kept our heads down and we were just waiting for the opportunity, and we are grateful to have had this opportunity.

“But it proves a lot of people wrong. We’ve heard a lot about them saying the host corps is lacking and we can’t trust them outside. But once we get that opportunity , we always make sure to capitalize on that.”

The difference Saturday, compared to the first two weeks, Whittingham said, is that the receivers “opened up, Cam gave them the ball and they made plays.”

“You see Solo Enis made some good plays and had a great run after catching a critical third down in that second quarter,” Whittingham added. “Devaughn Vele, I talked about him all through fall camp, and you saw glimpses of his abilities tonight; he’s a great player.”

It’s as simple as that, right? Not so fast.

Utah doesn’t suddenly switch to an Air Raid attack after Saturday’s performance. Whittingham maintains that the team’s ‘base package’, personnel on the pitch on most games, will continue to include two tight ends – Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid – and Vele and Enis on the outside for ‘90% representatives” for recipients.

“We’re not going to take those tight ends off the field; they’re too valuable,” Whittingham said.

Still, having more of an outside threat makes Utah’s offense more diverse and versatile, and Rising says it makes their job easier on the field.

“Just makes it a lot more versatile,” Rising said. “You can hit the guys inside in the middle or you can go outside, and that just gives you a lot more options. “Team has to do no matter what the situation – and just props for them. I’m glad we’re in and out, it makes my life a lot easier.”

So while receivers have had their moment — at least a bigger moment — they will always be just an option under the care of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and his plan to get the ball to his best players on the field. ground.

It will likely continue to be with tight ends and running backs, but there is also room for receivers to carve out a place on offense. And Saturday was just one example of what it could look like this season.

“It’s not just us; it takes a whole team to win in the game,” Vele said. “It starts at the O line, starts with the quarterback, the tight ends, everyone has a role in something, so we don’t want to overdo it on ourselves. But it’s really good to start. to have the ball and get a bit more involved in the attack, because we understand that we have guys in the team, but we can also be those guys, on the attacking side.”

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Josh is the athletic director of KSL.com and editor of athletics at the University of Utah – primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press top 25 voter for college football.

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