SALT LAKE CITY — Bringing Brian Johnson back to ground level proved to be a good thing for the Utah Utes on Saturday. The first-year offensive coordinator coached from the field instead of the box — swapping spots with passing coordinator Aaron Roderick — in Utah’s 49-27 victory over California.
“It seemed to be something that was a positive for us,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We made the move with just those hopes in mind.”
The move, he explained, gives Johnson a direct link with starting quarterback Travis Wilson — allowing eye contact and better communication.
“You can talk to someone on the headphones, but it’s not quite the same as being there face-to-face. It’s give-and-take, though you lose a little bit of a vantage point with your coordinator being down (on the field),” Whittingham said. “But fortunately we have Aaron Roderick, who has experience being in the box as a coordinator and is a good set of eyes for Brian up there.”
After snapping a four-game skid with the new arrangement, Whittingham plans to continue it.
“Moving forward we anticipate leaving it the same way and don’t anticipate that changing unless we run into another reason to take a look at it,” he said.
LIKING THE LINE: Quarterback Travis Wilson is pleased with how the offensive line is playing despite all the changes this season. He said that Vyncent Jones stepped in well at left guard in the win over Cal.
“Our offensive line has been doing great lately,” Wilson said. “It’s really helpful that they are doing great. It gets us better runs and it just helps me be more productive in the pass game.”
CENTURY MARK: Saturday’s game will be Whittingham’s 100th as head coach of the Utes. He enters the contest with a 69-30 record, including an 11-10 mark since Utah joined the Pac-12 last year.
“Football is football, regardless of what conference you’re in. But we’re all aware that the bar has been raised tremendously in virtually every area and that’s a good thing,” Whittingham said. “You know it’s competitive, and as a coach and a player you want to compete with the best. So, yeah, it does feel a little bit different, but it’s a good thing overall I believe.”
TOUGH TALK: Whittingham sounded a bit like Seinfeld’s soup shop owner when asked about an injury update on running back Kelvin York.
“No,” Whittingham retorted. “We don’t talk injuries ever. So that will never change.”
Whittingham, who then added “never say never,” did respond to a follow-up question about going with starter John White and a different backup this week against Washington State.
“We’ll see what happens. If Kelvin’s available, then we’ll move forward with Kelvin,” Whittingham said. “Then if he’s not, then it’ll be Jarrell (Oliver) or Lucky (Radley). Lucky is right there neck-and-neck with Jarrell. So we feel that either one of those backs would be very capable.”
Whittingham said that Karl Williams is also in the mix.
IN APPRECIATION: Whittingham took time to thank Utah fans for the support they have shown to the players all season long. Saturday’s game was the Utes’ 16th consecutive sellout at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“I want to make sure I mention that,” Whittingham said in expressing his appreciation. “We’re going through a tough skid there and support never wavered — sold-out stadium and it was a great atmosphere.”
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