After winning the Pac-12 South division the past two years, the Utah football team isn’t enjoying the same type of success this year.
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell isn’t fooled by the Utes’ record, though.
COVID-19 issues led to Utah (1-2) starting its season later than any other team in the country. Then, the Utes lost their starting quarterback (Cameron Rising) to a season-ending injury early in the opener and lost to two of the Pac-12’s top teams, Southern California and Washington, out of the gate.
Last week, in a 30-24 win against Oregon State, the Utes looked more like the team Dorrell studied in the offseason.
“They’re completely, in my mind, a different looking team (from Game 1), a little more efficient team,” he said. “They look like they’re more ingrained with their systems on offense and defense and special teams.”
In particular, quarterback Jake Bentley has shown improvement. He replaced Rising in the opener against USC and had his most efficient game last week against Oregon State.
“He’s been playing now for three games, so he looks better and more comfortable in their offensive system,” Dorrell said.
While the Utes have sputtered to get going, they rank second in the Pac-12 in total defense and first in rushing defense. On offense, running back Ty Jordan has hit his stride, with 264 yards in the last two games.
“I know that they’re a very good team,” Dorrell said. “Their record has no indication of really the capability of what this team is.”
Last winter, CU linebacker Nate Landman contemplated skipping his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. He ultimately decided to come back and he’s having a monster season.
Although he’s a senior, the COVID-19 pandemic has led the NCAA to grant an extra year of eligibility to players and Landman could come back next year. In the midst of a potential All-American season, however, it’s likely Landman would go the NFL in the spring. At least publicly, he’s not ready to make that announcement.
“That’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “I’m not focusing on that right now. I’m focusing on winning a Pac-12 championship. I’ll focus on that at the end of the season when that time is and I’m kind of just focused on the season. I stayed back for this season. I have some stuff here that I need to accomplish first.”
This week, Landman was invited to the East-West Shrine Game, one of the top all-star games for draft-eligible players. Although the Shrine game was canceled due to COVID-19, organizers are still giving formal invitations to players.
Jones back, Kutsch out
Starting inside linebacker Akil Jones missed the Buffs’ 24-13 win at Arizona on Saturday because he went to New Jersey for the birth of his son. Dorrell said Jones is back and ready to go for Saturday.
“He’s tested through the protocols and he’s done everything that’s required of him to be ready to play,” Dorrell said.
Center/guard Kary Kutsch will not play, however. The senior missed the Arizona game because of a positive COVID-19 test and will not be ready for the Utah game. Dorrell said he hopes to have Kutsch back in the lineup next week. Kutsch started the opener at left guard, but moved to center after Colby Pursell was injured and started two games at center.
Dorrell said the Buffs hope to have Pursell back this week.
Typically, Pac-12 teams have done COVID-19 testing the morning of a game. However, with a 10:05 a.m. kickoff this week, the Buffs and Utes will not test that morning. Instead, the teams will go through testing on Friday night. CU will also do a round of testing on Friday morning. … The forecast calls for cold temperatures and snow Friday and Saturday. To prepare, Dorrell said the Buffs practiced with wet footballs on Wednesday and will probably do that again Thursday. …CU is 13-18 all-time in the month of December, with most of those being bowl games. … CU defensive coordinator Tyson Summers was one of 56 coaches nominated Wednesday for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in college football.