No. 16 Utah plagued with injuries and inefficiency on offense

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Thursday, October 12, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY -- - Injuries and ineffective play have combined to drain the life from Utah's offense.

The no. 16 Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) enter Saturday's game against California ranked last in the Pac-12 in both passing offense (153.8 yards per game) and total offense (297.6 ypg). Major injuries to offensive linemen, running backs, receivers and quarterbacks have rendered Utah's offense increasingly toothless as the season has progressed.

"We've looked at it from every single angle. Are we doing something wrong in practice? Are we training wrong in the offseason?" Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It could just be bad luck. It's an unfortunate situation, but you move on."

Things bottomed out in a 21-7 loss to Oregon State two weeks ago. The Utes totaled 198 yards against the Beavers and averaged only 3.1 yards per play.

"You just come to this program and losses kind of feel like the end of the world," Utah running back Jaylon Glover said. "We have a lot to be happy about. But we're a team that knows where our success can be, and we just want to strive for it."

Cam Rising's continued absence has hindered the offense from making progress. His return remains a persistent question mark. The senior quarterback revealed on a Salt Lake area radio station during Utah's bye week that the knee injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl in January was worse than originally reported. In addition to tearing his ACL, Rising also tore the MCL, MPFL and meniscus in the same knee.

Rising's replacements, Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson, have struggled to lead the offense. They have combined for 769 yards through the air over five games.

California is enduring similar struggles on defense. The Bears (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have yielded 486.0 yards per game against other Pac-12 teams. They have been especially vulnerable through the air, allowing more than 250 passing yards in each of their last four contests.

Not coincidentally, California has also surrendered 111 total points in losses to Washington and Oregon State.

"The best defenses will affect the quarterback," Bears coach Justin Wilcox said. "We got to do a great job scheming, and then we have to also produce when we get one-on-one blocks, just like the cover guys do."


Saturday's game will pit one of the Pac-12's top rushing offenses against the league's stingiest run defense.

California is averaging 217.3 yards per game on the ground, ranking second in the Pac-12, and the Bears are outgaining opponents by 101.5 rushing yards per game. Bears running back Jaydn Ott ranks second in the Pac-12 with 558 total rushing yards.

Utah, on the other hand, has allowed only 67.0 rushing yards per game, ranking third nationally. Only two opponents have run for more than 100 yards against the Utes.

Oddly, Utah has proved far less imposing running the ball than in past seasons. The Utes generated a season low of 57 rushing yards against Oregon State and are averaging 3.4 yards per carry through five games.

"Five yards per carry is kind of the benchmark we're looking for, and we're not getting that, not even close," Whittingham said. "That is a big issue for us right now and a point of concern."

Two running backs, Chris Curry and Micah Bernard, have already suffered season-ending injuries. Injuries have also slowed lead back Ja'Quinden Jackson, who sat out against the Beavers two weeks ago.


Fernando Mendoza made the most of his first career start at quarterback for California, throwing for 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-40 loss to Oregon State. Mendoza completed 66% of his pass attempts against the Beavers. It marked the third time this season where the Bears finished with more than 200 passing yards against an opponent.

Mendoza remains atop the depth chart going to Utah.

"He was doing the right things with the ball, whether it was the run game, the RPO, or the run run reads," Wilcox said. "I think where he can take the next step -- and he would tell you the same -- is accuracy on some of the throws."


This is the last scheduled meeting between Utah and California, with the Utes joining the Big 12 and the Bears heading to the ACC in 2024. But the two teams haven't been a fixture on one another's schedules anyway. Saturday's game will be only the second one between California and Utah since 2016. The Utes shut out the Bears 35-0 in 2019.


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