Kyle Whittingham Weekly Press Conference: Oregon State
SALT LAKE CITY – University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham held his weekly press conference on Monday, meeting with members of the media inside the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center.
Selected quotes from Coach Whittingham can be seen below. The full press conference video is available here.
"First off, this is the one-year anniversary of Aaron Lowe's passing, and I just want to let Aaron's family know how much they're in our thoughts and prayers. We miss him, and just want to make sure we acknowledge that. We always remember Aaron and Ty Jordan.
"That being said, talking about the game on Saturday. We handled our business down in Tempe. I thought we played well, both offensively and defensively. Special teams was so-so. In particular, on defense we played well, and in particular against the run. That was really an outstanding performance by our defense defending the run game. That really was the difference in the game, they couldn't get anything going running the football. That makes offense very difficult when you can't run the football. Offensively, I thought we were balanced, did a nice job mixing things up, had some big plays. Dalton Kincaid made some big plays. Cameron Rising was sharp. We only turned the ball over one time. We were plus-two in the turnover margin; when we're plus two, it's a 90%-plus chance of winning the game. So that was another big factor. The big downer from the game was [the injury to] Brant Kuithe. He's lost for the season. That's a big blow to our offense. He was a huge part of what we do offensively. But we'll have to have guys step up and pick up the slack. It means an opportunity for Thomas Yassmin, Munir McClain, Logan Kendall. They've got to pick it up. And we'll miss [Brant]. He's a great leader. Great person. It breaks your heart to see something like that happen to a senior. The silver lining, if there is one, you get four games to redshirt. He did have a redshirt year. So if he chooses, and he wants the opportunity to come back next season, that's available to him. But otherwise, it's a tough blow to our team.
"Looking forward, we've got Oregon State coming to town. Outstanding football team, played USC right down to the wire a couple days ago. Jonathan Smith's doing a great job up there, I think this is his fifth season. He's really built that program back up the right way. We will have our hands full this week. It'll be a great Pac-12 contest in Rice-Eccles. Kickoff at noon on Saturday."
On how Brant Kuithe's injury impacts the offense…
"With Brant Kuithe out, like I mentioned, we're going to have to have some guys step up. Dalton Kincaid's role becomes even bigger. He was already a big part of the offense as well. As I mentioned, Thomas Yassmin is really the guy that will take most of the reps that would typically be for Brant. Just gotta continue to move forward. Injuries are the most unfortunate part of this sport, and the part of my job that I like the least, seeing these young men get hurt. But like I said, just gotta move forward. We've got a lot of football left; two-thirds of the season left. Gotta figure out how to continue to score points and move the ball."
On what he saw in the USC-Oregon State game that stands out about the Beavers…
"Lot of similarities. They're a lot like us offensively. Balanced attack, employ the tight ends a bunch, they use multiple tight ends. Play action pass game, off the run action. There's a lot of characteristics for their offense that match up to our offense. But they've been running that scheme well for a few years now. It was a low-scoring game [vs. USC]. I think the thing that really did them in was the turnovers…that was really the difference in the game."
On how the team's depth is holding up, given recent injuries…
"[I feel] good. We are deeper, we believe, than we've ever been since we've been in the Pac-12. That's just been an ongoing process to build depth in the roster and talent throughout the 85-man scholarship roster. I think our walk-ons are more talented and better than they've been. You have to be able to have the next-man-up mentality. One positive this week is we should get Mohamoud Diabate back, barring anything unforeseen going forward. If there's no setbacks, then he'll be available this week, which'll be a big positive for us."
On what's next in Ja'Quinden Jackson's progression into the running back position…
"Getting the footwork and all the nuances of the running back position. As a quarterback, he obviously knows the offense inside and out. But specific to the running back position, he's got to have all the details, the footwork, the blitz pickups, that type of thing. That's what he's going to work hard at. He only had two and a half days of practice last week, and ended up giving us some quality carries and scored a touchdown. We expect him to take another step forward this week, and as the weeks progress just continue to get better and better."
On how the running back room is shaping up…
"Lot of guys, Jaylon Glover played good football on Saturday as well. Had some good carries. With Tavion Thomas, Jaylon Glover, now Ja'Quinden and Micah Bernard, those are the top four. Charlie Vincent would be the fifth guy right now. That's who we're working with, those guys. We still feel really good about that room. Losing Chris Curry was a blow, but we've got plenty of talent left in that room."
On Thomas Yassmin's next steps in his growth…
"Assignment-sound. Eliminating mental mistakes; that's the biggest issue right now, or has been the biggest issue. He was pretty darn good in the game on Saturday when he came in for Brant. But that's been what's held him back. Like we've said before, he started at ground zero when he got to us. He had no football experience. Everything has been a process for him, a learning process. He's better now than he's ever been. If he can eliminate the few errors that do show up on occasion, that's what's going to make him an even better player."
What does Yassmin have that you like?
"He's got size, speed, good hands. He's athletic. He's a prototypical tight end; 6-foot-5, 250. If you watch our kickoff team, he's the first one down [the field] every single time. So that shows you the speed he has. He does have great hands. The football savy, having never played, put him at a big disadvantage, but he's made up a lot of ground with that."
On assessing the offensive line…
"I wouldn't say growing pains, but I'd say they weren't imposing their will like we feel like they can in the game Saturday night. Especially in the first half; we picked up things in the third quarter and had a much better rushing production in the third quarter. We kind of backed off in the fourth quarter and just tried to get the game over with. But we have high expectations of those guys and we expect them to be dominant week in and week out. Whether that's realistic or not, that's our expectation."
On how the defense has evolved, particularly the front seven…
"The fundamentals and the technique have been getting better and better. The front has gotten better since the first game…it was not good. The front has [improved], particularly inside—the tackles—we've pretty much established that Junior Tafuna and Aliki Vimahi are going to be the two guys that get the bulk of the reps. And those guys played exceptionally well on Saturday. Simote Pepa came in and gave us some good reps in relief of those guys. But that's been the biggest key, is those tackles have settled in and really are doing a great job with their gap control, which lets the linebackers fit and flow. The defensive ends have been pretty solid all year controlling the edges. But the play of the D-tackles, the improved play of the D-tackles, has been the biggest difference."
On Ja'Quinden Jackson's position change coming midseason…
"If he didn't have the fairly extensive running back background, that would be a different story. But he has a lot of experience as a running back. It's been a few years, but he's had that experience at the position and the workload as a full-time starter at that position. I don't know if it's like riding a bike, but certainly he'll draw on that. Giving him a full week of prep [this week] will be much more conducive to his success than throwing him in midweek last week."
A year later, what kind of impact have Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan had on the program and you as a coach?
"Huge impact on the program and myself. They're in our thoughts daily. We have plenty of things throughout the building, reminders and tributes to those two young men. Aaron's mom and Ty's mom will be coming to a game here shortly, and we'll honor them. They've had, and continue to have, a big impact on our team and our program as a whole."
On R.J. Hubert's play at safety…
"Very good, the safety play overall has been very good. The two guys that back [Hubert and Cole Bishop] up are really good players; Clayton Isbell at the free spot is going to be real good when he gets himself completely up to speed schematically and figures out exactly what the position entails here. And Sione Vaki is really good behind Cole. But [Cole and R.J.] are the starters. Cole is a special player. [On Saturday] he had a sack, he had a pick, several tackles. He's a guy that is a complete football player and can do it all. He's only in his second year, a true sophomore. So what he's doing as a true sophomore is pretty amazing. And then R.J., what a success story. To come back from those injuries that he's had, he's had several setbacks, but he just keeps after it. This is the payoff for him. Hopefully he can stay healthy the rest of the year and continue to have a good year."
On concern about opponent kick returns…
"Concerned. Very concerned, because it showed up last year. It was not a problem until this past week. We've got to do a better job of coaching. We're not rotating; what they call a 'break' return, when they start to the boundary and then break into the field, that's the return that did the most damage. We've got to do a better job of rotating, staying in our lanes, we missed some tackles. It is a big concern and we've got to get that corrected."
Utah will return to Rice-Eccles Stadium for its annual Homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 1 when they take on the Oregon State Beavers. The game will air on Pac-12 Networks at 12 p.m. MT.
To get an inside look at the Utah Football program, follow the Utes on social media (Twitter: @Utah_Football | Instagram: @UtahFootball | Facebook: Search Utah Football), along with visiting www.UtahUtes.com for news, schedule and roster updates throughout the season.