Utah must regroup without Wynn

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
5:03
PM ET
Utah fans, please gather. Yes, you, Chicken Little, Henny Penny and, most particularly, you, Utesy Losey.

Your coach, Kyle Whittingham, has a message for you.

"The sky is not falling," he said. "We are 2-2 and have done some good things this season."

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill"There is little margin for error in this conference," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Yes, the Utes have lost QB Jordan Wynn for at least two or three weeks. But backup Jon Hays can get it done, says your coach.

"He's the guy," Whittingham said. "He's a hard worker. He's competitive. About 6-feet tall, 195-200 pounds. He's got a strong arm and is a very capable runner. We've got to tweak things a little bit offensively to take advantage of his skill set."

Or as Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said, "They’re still a good football team."

That reassurance now expressed, yes, there will be a strong sense of urgency inside Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday with the Sun Devils visit.

In the preseason, this looked like a critical matchup in the Pac-12 South Division pecking order. With USC ineligible to play in the Pac-12 championship game due to NCAA sanctions, the Sun Devils and Utes were popular choices as the next two favorites. But the No. 22 Sun Devils rolled to a 4-1 start -- 2-0 in conference play -- while the Utes are 0-2 in the conference.

That means if the Utes lose, their hopes of winning the division are close to nil. So, with Wynn out, the Utes are need Hays, a summer transfer from Nebraska-Omaha, to come up big.

Or at least manage the game and not make a bunch of costly mistakes, as inexperienced QBs often do.

"This is a situation where we find out who we really are and what we're made of, when adversity strikes," Whittingham said.

There is good news for Utah, even on the injury front. Other than Wynn, it's pretty healthy, as OT Tony Bergstrom, the Utes best offensive lineman, and tight ends Kendrick Moeai and Jake Murphy are each expected back after missing the Washington game.

Utah still has a good defense and a good running game. Playing at home, it's perfectly capable of playing conservatively and stealing a victory, which would move it back into the thick of the division race, particularly with no Oregon or Stanford on the schedule (ASU only plays Oregon).

In fact, the Sun Devils are the truly banged up team. The latest injuries hit the offensive line: Two starters, center Garth Gerhart and tackle Evan Finkenberg, are both out.

So while this might seem like a potential walk-over for the Sun Devils, don't be so sure.

"Obviously, if you lose your quarterback, it’ll hurt you a little bit," Erickson said. "They have really good players, though. They’re really physical on defense. They’re a really good defensive football team. To me, going up there is going to be difficult, so we have to find a way to play on the road and win some football games on the road."

Also obvious: The Sun Devils figure to gang up on the run and force Hays to throw. While ASU isn't a blitz-happy team, it's sure to challenge Hays with a few jailbreak stunts to see how he handles the pressure.

On offense, the Sun Devils probably won't get too fancy. Run the ball with Cameron Marshall, though his ankle is still bothering him, and use a controlled passing game. They don't want to put pressure on the two new offensive linemen in pass protection. They want to protect the ball, win field position and try to get a few easy scores on a short field.

Still, as bad as the injuries have been for Arizona State, Utah losing Wynn appears to be a huge hit. Perhaps Hays will write his own Cinderella story, but the reality of Pac-12 play also might be setting in for the Utes. Namely: You've got to have depth, and things are particularly grim if you don't have depth at QB.

"There is little margin for error in this conference," Whittingham said. "We knew it would be competitive, and every week is going to be like this. I don't know if people thought we would walk through it, but that's not reality. Our recruiting classes continue to build our roster, but it's a process."

And the process at present means the Utes are forced to rely on a QB who a year ago never expected to play in an FBS, much less a Pac-12, game.

Ted Miller | email

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