As conference opener looms, coach says he's happy with overall progress.
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The Utah Utes didn't spend much of their bye week working on game preparations for Colorado State. Instead, they were busy working on themselves.
While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham overall is happy with the progress the Utes have made since the season started, the first four games revealed there was plenty of room for improvement.
The Utes played what Whittingham called "their most complete game" against Louisville, but the offense still has issues.
"We're not as efficient as we need to be in certain situations," Whittingham said.
Specifically, the Utes are most unsatisfied with their red zone offense and third-down conversions. The Utes have made 15 trips into opponents' red zones and have six touchdowns and four field goals.
Offensive coordinator Dave Schramm better quantified the stats.
"Right now we're awful in the red zone, and that falls on me," he said. "We need to score touchdowns. Field goals are nice, but that isn't what we want."
On two occasions, against Utah State and San Jose State, the Utes were stopped on fourth-and-goal situations.
But even worse, Schramm said, was the Utes' habit of hurting themselves with offside calls, false starts and so forth that have hurt the red zone production and Utah's third-down conversion rate, which is just 37 percent (21-for-57).
"We've put ourselves in horrible positions," Schramm said. "It's not third-and-4 or third-and-3, but third-and-12, third-and-13, third-and-14. It has all been self-inflicted like jumping offsides, taking sacks, just craziness. They are things you cannot do and be a good football team."
Despite the frustrations, there have been improvements, according to the coaches. They like the way quarterback Terrance Cain is developing, as well as the receivers.
Of course, the biggest offensive concern is replacing senior running back Matt Asiata, whose season ended when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Louisville.
While his replacement, Eddie Wide, is a different style of runner, neither Schramm nor Whittingham anticipate changing the offense too much, other than giving more carries to backups Sausan Shakerin and Shaky Smithson.
"We have to get guys ready to play because it's a physically demanding position," Schramm said. "Eddie played a lot on special teams, which he won't now, so it affects everything."
Defensively, the Utes feel much better after holding Louisville to 80 rushing yards, believing they are getting back to the stingy level of play they exhibited in 2008 when they ranked No. 11 nationally.
"We're still not where we need to be, but we turned it up a notch," linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. "The second half against Oregon and the whole game against Louisville, we got a sense of the defense we'd like to be. We have to bring that into every game in conference."
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