Utah Must Incorporate Passing Game More Against Washington

Now taking the reigns of the offense, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and quarterback Jake Bentley must take advantage of their talented pass-catchers and make them a priority Saturday night

When Utah fell to No. 19 USC 33-17 on Saturday night, the outcome wasn't entirely shocking considering it was Utah's first game of the season and USC's third. 

The Utes were tasked with replacing nine starters on defense from the previous season while breaking in a new quarterback and running back on offense. But the one thing Utah was expected to do was put on points — especially with its talented group of pass-catchers — against a Trojans defense that had struggled in its first two games

So while the outcome wasn't shocking, what was incredibly shocking was lack of contribution the Utes pass-catchers had on the game. Understandably there was a quarterback change, but the lack of involvement from tight end Brant Kuithe and wide receiver Bryan Thompson was shocking considering how much hype they had entering the season.

Dec 6, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) catches a pass against Oregon Ducks safety Brady Breeze (25) during the first half of the Pac-12 Conference championship game at Levi's Stadium.

"The thing we didn't count on was not being productive on offense," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said postgame. "We thought we'd be much more productive offensively, we have a veteran group. It's tough to win games when you turn the ball over five times — one of those turnovers was a Hail Mary at the end — and only score 10 points offensively. ... We need to get Brant Kuithe the ball to more."

Kuithe came into this season with as much fanfare as any Ute, garnering all-Pac-12 preseason honors and a number of All-American preseason honors. Thompson had drawn raves in fall camp for his play, especially the way he transformed his body in the offseason and dominated opposing defensive backs.

So after they combined for 71 yards on just six catches against the Trojans, something needs to change because Utah realistically has no chance to succeed against Washington on Saturday — let alone the rest of the season — without those two.

Sep 14, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Bryan Thompson (19) catches a touchdown pass while defended by Idaho State Bengals defensive back Jay Irvine (1) during the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

According to Thompson, the biggest thing moving forward is developing their chemistry with Bentley, who's replacing Cam Rising as the starting quarterback the rest of the year.

“Really we just got to find a rhythm. I feel like once we find that rhythm things are going to move much more smoothly. ... I don’t think it’s a big thing to think about,” Thompson told media members on Tuesday. "You know coming into the season we wanted to get chemistry with both guys, because you know there’s no telling what could happen. So we’re prepared for anybody to be at quarterback. We trust either one of them."

Ideally, Utah wants to be an offense that's as close to 50-50 as possible when it comes to run/pass. But the only way that can be successful is if the Utes find ways to get the ball to Thompson and Kuithe. 

Utah sophomore Jake Bentley throws a pass in a recent practice during Utah's 2020 Fall Camp.

When it comes to Saturday night against Washington, look for offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to design the offense around Kuithe and Thompson, particularly getting them involved early on whether it be quick passes or screens. With those two thriving and forcing the Huskies to spread out on offense, it opens up the running game and all of a sudden the Utes become extremely difficult to defend.

“Like I said I don't think I'm the type of receiver, that’s a one way type of receiver. So anyway Coach Lud needs me I can provide that to him,” Thompson said. “First game under our belt, you know, that game is done, let's focus on the next one."

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