Nov 23, 2019; Tucson, AZ, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks on during the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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Focus on COVID-19 as UCLA, Utah prepare for matchup

Utah’s scheduled Pac-12 Conference game with UCLA, which was moved from Friday to Saturday to allow for more time to deal with COVID-19 concerns, is more about off-the-field news of the disease than what will happen at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

The Utes’ season-opener last Saturday against Arizona, scheduled for Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, was canceled because multiple Utes players tested positive for COVID-19.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the media on Monday that one of his players was hospitalized.

“We’ve had some players that have become very sick, almost in the hospital,” Whittingham said. “I am not a medical expert. I don’t want to try to expound on something I don’t know much about other than what has impacted us. We had one player that had a tough go of it.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency Sunday and mandated the use of face masks in public.

UCLA (0-1) also has COVID-19 concerns after one player tested positive before Saturday’s 48-42 loss at Colorado.

The Bruins rallied in that game after trailing 35-7 in the second quarter, but they came up short in Chip Kelly’s third consecutive season-opening setback in as many years as UCLA’s coach. Their four turnovers in the first half were too many to overcome.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed 20 of 40 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns for the Bruins. He also rushed for a touchdown and finished with nine carries for 109 yards.

“It’s not anything more than we turned the ball over too many times, and we need to rectify that,” Kelly said. “You’re not going to win games when you have four turnovers in the first half. That’s what this league is all about, and we’ve got to do a better job coaching.”

While UCLA has experience at quarterback with Thompson-Robinson, a junior with 12 consecutive starts, Utah must replace All-Pac-12 quarterback Tyler Huntley, who has exhausted his eligibility.

Seniors Jake Bentley (graduate transfer from South Carolina) and Drew Lisk and sophomore Cam Rising were engaged in a battle for starting quarterback. Whittingham announced last week he has made a decision on the starter but has continued to keep that a secret.

“We’ll probably let him trot out there and do his thing. Why give the opponent any lead time to prepare?” Whittingham said.

Utah returns only two defensive starters from last year’s unit, which allowed an average of only 269.2 yards per game. Junior linebacker Devin Lloyd, who led Utah with 91 tackles, is the top returner.

What has Whittingham most concerned this week is remaining above 53 available scholarship athletes required by the Pac-12 to play a game.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Whittingham said. “When it happened last Friday, we were under the threshold as well. But we also didn’t have time; there’s no practice left to try to get some of the walk-ons up to speed.

“At least this week, we have time to try to get some guys trained up as best as we can.”

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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