Turnovers A Factor In Utes' Shaky Start

Utah the first Pac-12 opponent to make an apperance in Pittsburgh since Washington State travelled in for the 1995 season-opener.

It's in Jon Hays' hands.

Utah must try to right its ship with the junior-college transfer at the helm for the rest of the season. The school announced Monday that junior Jordan Wynn will have season-ending surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. He suffered the injury during Utah's 31-14 loss to Washington on Oct. 1.

"Obviously, this is disappointing news for Jordan and the entire team," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a released statement. "Jordan worked incredibly hard to come back from his shoulder surgery last winter, and we are confident he will take the same approach with his rehab this time around. The good news is that he is eligible for a redshirt season."

At least the Utes (2-3) get a non-conference tune-up at Pittsburgh (3-3) on Saturday to give Hays another start before the team tries to navigate through the rest of the Pac-12. Utah is off to an 0-3 start, losing its first three games in conference play since 2002, when it was a member of the Mountain West.

The Utes knew entering a Bowl Championship Series conference would pose a challenge, but they are learning -- the hard way -- that the mistakes they made on a weekly basis in the MWC translate to losses in the Pac-12.

"It's hard since it's the first year and people are going to say what they want," defensive lineman Dave Kruger told the Salt Lake Tribune. "But honestly, we feel like the teams we've played in the Pac-12 are like the ones we played before for the most part."

Utah has committed five turnovers in each of its last two games, against Washington an Arizona State. Hays threw three interceptions in his first start last week, and the Utes had two fumbles that sandwiched one of his interceptions in the second half and allowed the Sun Devils to rally from a 14-10 deficit for a 35-14 lead.

Hays seems ready to take on the challenge ahead.

"I have to work on the little things and take better care of the ball," he told the Tribune. "I did OK, but I'm definitely not satisfied and took some chances I shouldn't have. ... I feel comfortable with the offense, and I'm going to keep getting more comfortable as the weeks go on. I'm just going to have to get back out there."

--Because of the 10 a.m. start (Mountain Time) at Pittsburgh, the Utes have been practicing during the morning this week to compensate. Utah also is making the trek to Pittsburgh on Thursday, rather than Friday. That has hindered the players on the team's injury list who had one day fewer to recover to make the trip.

--Utah will use Trevor Reilly and Brian Blechen at linebacker and safety, respectively, depending on the offensive schemes the Utes will face during the course of the season. Reilly started at linebacker but moved to defensive end. The coaching staff decided to move him back to linebacker last week, and he is listed atop the depth chart at "stud" linebacker. Blechen, who was the No. 1 stud linebacker, now will start at strong safety. He played safety last season.

--The Utes are 8-0 vs. teams from the Big East, including 2-0 vs. Pittsburgh. Utah has won four straight against Louisville and defeated West Virginia and South Florida once each.

SERIES HISTORY: Utah leads 2-0 (last meeting, 2010, Utah 27-24 in OT).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Utes might have one blessing with the finality of the QB situation in that they now know they can start reconstructing the offense to take advantage of Jon Hays' strengths, rather than wait for Jordan Wynn to come back. The differences might not be dramatic this week against the Panthers, but Hays' running ability should become a bigger part of the package in the coming weeks. Pittsburgh has been more vulnerable against the pass, giving up 270.3 yards through the air, but Utah will be at a disadvantage if leading WR Devonte Christopher cannot play because of an ankle sprain. Either way, look for more John White and Harvey Langi trying to move piles until Hays gets settled. One thing is certain: The offense can't turn over the football five times per game like it has done in each of the last two weeks.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Utes are looking to put more size on the line, moving Trevor Reilly to linebacker and Brian Blechen to defensive back. That may pay dividends against the Panthers' rushing offense, which checks in at 173.7 yards per game. Panthers RB Ray Graham is second in the nation in rushing at 149.8 yards per game, but the Utes were able to shut down Dion Lewis last season. Pitt QB Tino Sunseri didn't get going until the fourth quarter against the Utah defense in 2010, and the Utes are hoping to make him more uncomfortable in the pocket this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's tough. It's one of those things. I'm not one to look at standings and rankings, but it's rough and it weighs on your mind and it motivates you. It's to the point now where I'll do anything to get a win. You'll have to bury me on the field if that's what it takes to get a win." -- Utah OL Tony Bergstrom, to the Salt Lake Tribune.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Utah at Pittsburgh, Oct. 15 -- The Utes squandered a second-half lead but held off the Panthers in OT last season on Brian Blechen's interception. That set up Joe Phillips' 21-yard game-winning field goal. The Utes' other win came in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, in which they were the first non-BCS team to make an appearance in a BCS postseason game.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Utes have to rally around QB Jon Hays but try not to get overanxious by having individual players attempting to do more than they're asked to do. Utah has been competitive in each of its three Pac-12 losses, and turnovers have killed the team's chances in the last two games. The team that controls the line of scrimmage with its running attack on Saturday should be the one left standing at the end of the day.

QB Jon Hays -- The Utes will find out about the character of Hays this week. He is now entrenched as the starter and has that first game under his belt, in which he threw three interceptions last week against Arizona State. How well the transfer can bounce back against the Panthers could go a long toward determining how much of a turnaround the team can make during its final seven games of the season.

TE Dallin Rogers -- He will take on a bigger role as an outlet in the passing game for Hays, but if WR DeVonte Christopher can't play on Saturday, Rogers may have to have a double-figure day in receptions for the Utes to be able to move the football. He enters the game second on the team with 21 receptions. Rogers has 163 receiving yards and has scored a pair of TDs.

Trevor Reilly -- His move to linebacker may put more pressure on the defensive line to penetrate the line of scrimmage. He leads the team in tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (three) as he rotated from defensive end to linebacker. He won't have as many opportunities if his new role requires him to play in the secondary on certain situations. Utah may want to keep him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible.

--QB Jordan Wynn is out for the season because of an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that he suffered Oct. 1 vs. Washington. He is scheduled for surgery in the next week or so and is eligible for a medical redshirt.

--WR DeVonte Christopher, who hurt his ankle in the first half last week against Arizona State, is questionable for Saturday's game against Pittsburgh.

--DB Keith McGill is questionable with a shoulder injury.

--Backup RB Tauni Vakapuna is doubtful for the trip east because of an ankle injury he suffered against the Sun Devils.

--PR Charles Henderson suffered a season-ending knee injury last weekend. Griff McNabb will take over return duties.

--Redshirt freshman Jacoby Hale suffered a concussion against ASU and will not play against Pittsburgh, further depleting Utah's special teams.

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