NOTEBOOK: Utah D is tough task

OREGON STATE TRAVELS to Utah at a time when the Utes have hit a low point. League losses are coming at every-increasing margins, the media and fans are sniping after last week's 34-10 loss to Cal and the offense is in a daze. But…

But the last time Oregon State came off a win (Arizona) and faced the following week an opponent many thought they would handle (BYU) they got sand kicked in their face.

The Utes (3-4, 0-4) have been backs into a corner, and Mike Riley thinks they're more dangerous a team because of it. Many Utah supporters are looking at the Oregon State game as all-or-nothing -- If they win, they have a good shot at bowl eligibility. If they lose, they might not win another game this year.

After all, they're playing a team that two weeks ago gave up 499 yards to BYU. Utah crushed BYU earlier this year by 44 points.

OVER ON DEFENSE, the Utes are a heckuva lot better than their record.

They've worn down over the course of recent games as the offense has struggled to keep themselves on the field, but it's been tough sledding, especially early, for many teams against the Utah D.

Utah, despite losing all four conference games, is ranked No. 27 in the nation in total defense.

"If we do not turn the ball over and score in the red zone, we are good enough special-teams-wise and defensively to be in ball games," Whittingham said.

UTAH WENT INTO their game against Cal with confident expectations, so much so the drubbing was termed the biggest surprise of the season by one media outlet. Utah committed four turnovers leading to 17 points. What's not working for Utah right now?

Not much is going right. Losing starting quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season to injury was of course big but there are wide ranging issues that have been exacerbated further. Teams have focused on stopping the Utah running game and it's worked.

Last week, Utah was held to 13 yards net rushing. QB Jon Hays has not been able to make teams pay but it's not all his fault, either. Protection has been leaky and playmakers haven't been making many plays to help him out.

"People are loading the box with eight-, nine- and 10-man front at times and daring you to throw," said coach Kyle Whittingham this week . "Until we can prove we can beat that and take advantage of that, I expect we'll see more of the same.

Utah was outplayed and outmuscled last week on offense, and first year offensive coordinator Norm Chow has not been able to come up with enough answers to help Utah get their first conference win. Utah's offense did 'nothing,' last week against Cal in the words of coach Kyle Whittingham.

  • The roles of Brian Blechen and Griff Robles have been solidified. Blechen, a former safety turned linebacker, will play at safety the remainder of the season with Keith McGill out (shoulder). Robles, a quarterback turned linebacker, is back at QB the rest of the way as Hays' backup.

  • Linebacker Trevor Reilly is getting more and more looks on Saturdays at defensive end.

  • Safety Eric Rowe is questionable with a knee injury. Receiver Devonte Christopher, out the past two games with an ankle injury, is expected to play.

  • A popular theory on the season woes is that the Utes are not being beaten physically, but they're not matching up well – which is another way of saying athleticism and speed.

  • Utah has committed 15 turnovers in four conference games.

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