Utah quarterback Nate Johnson took responsibility for 10th-ranked Utah’s disappointing offensive output against UCLA, promising improvement as he looked ahead to Friday night’s game at Oregon State.
“I apologize for how the game played out,” Johnson posted to social media after Utah’s 14-7 victory over UCLA to open Pac-12 play last Saturday.
Utah (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) scored both its touchdowns against the Bruins in the first half, on Karene Reid’s 21-yard interception return and Johnson’s 7-yard scoring pass to Landen King. Utah managed just 219 yards of total offense.
Johnson expounded on the need for improvement this week in preparing to face the No. 19 Beavers (3-1, 0-1) at Reser Stadium.
“I still believe in our offense, our offense is really good. We’ve just got to execute plays better,” he said.
While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was impressed with Johnson holding himself accountable, Utah’s offensive woes weren’t solely his responsibility.
“That’s admirable if he’s taking accountability. I don’t know if it’s accurate. There’s a lot that went into our lack of production,” Whittingham said. “Nate is a standup guy and he’s is learning to be a leader, and to me I take that as a positive thing from Nate that he would point the finger at himself, although I’m not buying into that.”
Johnson has started the last two games as Utah awaits the return of sixth-year senior Cam Rising, who tore his left ACL playing in the Rose Bowl in January and needed surgery. Johnson split time with quarterback Bryson Barnes in Utah’s first two games.
Rising has returned to practice, splitting reps with Johnson this week, but had not yet been given the final go-ahead to play.
“We’ll see if that happens,” Whittingham said.
Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said the Beavers know what they’re getting with Rising, so the focus will be on the four games the Utes have played without him so far this season.
“Obviously, Cam Rising is there and has a really long history of being a really good player and winning games, but we haven’t seen it this year on tape. We are preparing for these four games we’ve seen,” Smith said. “Then there isn’t going to be a huge adjustment, (we’ve seen) Rising’s skill set. He can create a whole lot similar to No. 13.”
The Beavers are coming off a close 38-35 loss at Washington State last weekend in their conference opener.
With a loss to open the conference slate of games, Oregon State is aware that another loss could possibly thwart the team’s chances of playing for the conference title — especially with all the high-profile teams in the Pac-12 this season.
“Every game we go in with the same mentality, it’s must-win. There’s no panic here. We prepare, have got to play aggressive, know these games are going to be tight and go out and compete on Friday,” Smith said.
Utah had a pair of players handed Pac-12 honors for their play against UCLA. Linebacker Karene Reid was named Defensive Player of the Week after he scored on the 21-yard interception return on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
Defensive end Jonah Elliss won Defensive Line Player of the Week honors after his 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss against the Bruins. Elliss has 5.5 sacks this season to lead the nation.
ON THE RUN
Oregon State is averaging 225 rushing yards a game and has 12 rushing touchdowns. Beavers running back Damien Martinez is averaging 108 yards a game to lead the Pac-12.
Utah’s rushing defense is ranked third in the nation, allowing an average of just 51 yards a game and only 2.02 yards a carry. The Utes have given up just two rushing touchdowns.
“They run it to perfection. So it’s difficult to stop,” Whittingham said. “It’s all about fitting the right gaps and being in the right spot at the right time, with the right fundamentals and technique.”
The Beavers are wearing head-to-toe orange for the game for the first time since 2018. While the team has donned all-orange uniforms since, they have always paired the look with a black helmet.
Fans are also being asked to wear orange to the game, which is a sellout with only standing-room tickets available.