Utah football: Utes' secondary showing improvement

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The Utah Utes have some healthy respect for Washington State and its passing attack, but the Utes aren't nearly as nervous about facing the Cougars as they might have been a few weeks ago.

Moving Reggie Topps into a starting role, getting safety Eric Rowe healthy and having Brian Blechen back up to speed after he served a three-game suspension have all contributed to better play in the secondary.

The Utes haven't given up the big plays like they did earlier in the season and have solved many of their communication issues.

"Unfortunately they had to grow up by learning the hard way," defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said. "It was embarrassing at times, but they understood they were going up against some great players. They had to learn for us to win they needed to be the same point and all on the same page."

Washington State's star receiver is Marquess Wilson, who ranks 17th nationally, averaging 92.5 yards a game.

However, safeties coach Morgan Scalley said the Utes can't afford to just key on Wilson, who is just one of six players averaging more than 10 yards a catch.

"Wilson does have the most catches, but they do a great job of spreading it out," Scalley said. "But [Brett] Bartolone and [Gabe] Marks are good players. Those quarterbacks do a solid job of distributing the football, too."

Running them in

To simulate Washington State's passing attack, the Utes are preparing defensive backs by facing them against two or three receiver sets.

"It's a fast-paced tempo, and we have to get used to that," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's not so much a factor they are using four wides, but it's throw after throw, and we have to simulate that with a big group of receivers."

Of note

Washington State's last visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium was in 2000, when the Cougars won 38-21. ... Saturday marks the annual Salute America game. Military representatives from all five branches will be carrying their service flags and wearing their colors.