No. 25 Utes try to rebound vs. resurgent Aztecs
The Utah Utes have hit a wall.
After cruising to an 8-0 record and the No. 6 spot in the AP Top 25, Utah was routed 47-7 at home by No. 4 TCU before losing 28-3 at Notre Dame. The Utes have tumbled to No. 25 after losing consecutive games for the first time since the start of the 2007 season.
The Utes (8-2, 5-1 Mountain West) will try to pick themselves up Saturday night at San Diego State (7-3, 4-2), which is enjoying a resurgence under second-year coach Brady Hoke. SDSU put a scare in TCU last Saturday with a late rally before losing 40-35 at Fort Worth.
''We've got to get back in sync offensively,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''One touchdown in the last nine quarters of play is just not going to cut it. That is our most pressing issue right now is to get that solved.''
Whittingham knows what's wrong. It's up to quarterback Jordan Wynn and the rest of the Utes to fix it.
''It's across the board,'' said Whittingham, pointing out that the Utes' receivers aren't getting open and that the running game isn't ''violent enough.''
''Through eight games we were doing things pretty well, then all of a sudden we've been not so good,'' he said. ''We understand that obviously the level of competition is different from week to week. Nonetheless, we've got to take care of ourselves and get corrections made within our own program.''
There were even questions this week about whether Whittingham would bench Wynn.
Whittingham said he'd think about replacing anyone who isn't productive.
''Right now Jordan is still our quarterback,'' Whittingham said. ''He's played historically very well at Qualcomm Stadium, both in high school and his opportunity in the bowl game there last year. We need him to respond, just like we need everyone on the football team to respond. It's not just Jordan. It's a lot of things that haven't been up to par on offense. We've got to have everybody come back with renewed enthusiasm and a renewed attitude and be ready to get after it.''
Wynn is 3-0 at Qualcomm Stadium. That includes two section championships while starting at suburban Oceanside High, followed by a 37-27 win against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl last year.
''We expect him to be confident, to be a leader, all those things you need at quarterback,'' Whittingham said. ''It's a leadership position by nature. That's what we've got to have. Jordan's had a couple of tough ballgames and I fully expect him to respond like a big-time Division I quarterback would. We expect production. We expect production at all positions.''
Hoke, whose Aztecs are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1998 and likely are headed for the Poinsettia Bowl, doesn't expect Utah's slump to last much longer.
''They have so much pride and tradition and a good legacy with what they've done. When you have that, you believe,'' Hoke said. ''Kyle is a good football coach and he has a good staff. Those kids will be ready to play. When TCU went up there, I don't know if I've seen a team play better. TCU did everything right and got a couple of bounces. A turnover here and there with their ability to score, all of a sudden you're down 23-0 or 30-0.
''But they're a good football team. You watch how they run and it's physical. Their line returns four starters. Defensively, they play with a great spirit to them. They played in a monsoon in South Bend and that's never good for anyone. Notre Dame has good football players, it's Notre Dame.''
The Aztecs have lost four straight to Utah. They were routed 38-7 last year and 63-14 two years ago.
Whittingham calls SDSU ''by far the most improved team in the conference. They have a lot of weapons.''
SDSU has the MWC's leading rusher, quarterback and receivers. Freshman Ronnie Hillman has rushed for 1,098 yards, quarterback Ryan Lindley has thrown for 2,688 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Vincent Brown (929 yards) and DeMarco Sampson (893) are the conference's leading receivers.
''They're a tougher football team, more physical,'' Whittingham said. ''The level of skill has always been there. They've always had that one or two skilled wide receiver or a skilled running back, and they were skilled in the secondary. But this year, the toughness is really what has set them apart.''
The Aztecs have a chance to finish second in the MWC.
''It means a lot, no question,'' Hoke said. ''We'd like to win 10 games. We're disappointed that we won't be able to achieve our goal of the Mountain West championship, but winning 10 games would put us in a position that we haven't been in since 1977. To win 10, you have to win eight. Our focus is on Utah and what we have to do this week.''