Previewing the Utah Utes: Part I - Coaching and Offense

The last time UCLA traveled to Salt Lake City to take on the Utes, Utah blasted the Bruins by a score of 44-6.  The following year, UCLA traveled to Provo to take on BYU and 59-0 happened.  Needless to say, the state of Utah has not been kind to UCLA in recent history.

The Utes are undergoing changes in Kyle Whittingham's 7th season as head coach.  Not only is Utah playing in its first season in a BCS conference, but the Utes converted from a spread offense to a pro-style attack by bringing in offensive coordinator Norm Chow.  The results of the changes have not been pretty, as Utah is currently ranked 111th in total offense.  It's unclear if the problem stems from increased competition or a poorly designed offense, but the issues have only been compounded due to the loss of starting quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season.

Coaching Staff

Whittingham has been at Utah since 1994.  He became defensive coordinator in 1995, and took over for Urban Meyer as head coach in 2005 when Meyer left for Gainesville after two seasons coaching the Utes.  The program has not skipped a beat under Whittingham, as he has gone 62-24 in his 6+ seasons, including a 13-0 2008 campaign.

Utah jumped at the chance to sign Norm Chow cheaply in the offeason. As a Utah graduate and fellow LDS member, Chow fits in to Utah's culture, even if his offense did not fit his players.  Utah had been running a spread offense since Meyer's tenure, and they are going through growing pains this year in the new pro-style attack.

Defensively, Kalani Fifita Sitake is in his third year as defensive coordinator.  Utah is 25th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 20.8 ppg.  They are very good at rushing defense, allowing only 95.4 ypg, 10th in the nation, but they do give up 244.8 ypg through the air, which is 86th nationally.

Quarterbacks

With the loss of  Wynn, Utah has turned to Jon Hays (Jr. 6'0, 212 lbs.). Hays is a transfer from Butte CC, the same CC that produced Aaron Rodgers.  Hays struggled when he was first thrown into action, but he has improved lately, throwing for 4 touchdowns and no interceptions the last two games after throwing 7 interceptions the previous 4 games.

Utah's back-up quarterback situation is murky at this point.  Freshman Tyler Shreve (6'4 235 lbs.) is clearly the quarterback of the future, but Utah has decided to redshirt him this season, despite the fact that he was initially Wynn's back-up to start the season.  That leaves Griff Robles (So. 6'4 235 lbs.) as back-up, despite the fact that Robles converted to linebacker in the offseason.  

Running Backs
John White (Jr. 5'9, 190 lbs.) leads the Utah rushing attack.  White has eclipsed 1000 yards this season with 1024 yards.  He averages 5.0 ypc and has scored 10 TD's.  Despite his smallish size, the JuCo transfer takes the lion's share of the carries and does not leave much for his backups.

Harvey Lang (Fr. 6'1, 221 lbs.) is second on the depth chart, but he has only 10 carries for 40 yards on the season. Tauni Vakapuna (Sr. 5'9, 229 lbs.) has 17 carries for 27 yards, but is listed behind Langi on the depth chart.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Utah lost Jerome Brooks to graduation, but DeVonte Christopher (Jr. 6'1, 200 lbs.) has stepped up as the #1 wide receiver.  He has 27 catches for 433 yards and 4 TD's despite missing two games.  

The future is also bright at this spot with Dres Anderson (Fr. 6'1, 185 lbs.).  The true freshmen beat out Reggie Dunn (Jr. 6'0, 173 lbs.) for the starting role and has 21 for 308 yards and 3 TD's.  Dunn has also caught 14 balls for 208 yards and a TD.  

Kenneth Scott (Fr. 6'3 205 lbs.) and Luke Matthews (Jr. 6'2, 206 lbs.) will also see action.

At tight end, Dallin Rogers (Jr. 6'3, 245 lbs.) started well but has been out since the Pittsburgh game.  Jake Murphy (Fr. 6'4, 255 lbs.) starts in his place and has made 5 catches for 64 yards and a TD.  Kendrick Moeai (Jr. 6'5, 260 lbs.), the presumed starter before the season, is the second tight end.  He has added 8 cathes for 37  yards.

Offensive Line

The Utah offensive line returned 3 starters from last year, but the unit has given up 23 sacks and 59 tackles for loss this season.  However, the sacks have been up and down, as 7 of the 23 sacks came against Pittsburgh and 4 came against Cal.

Tackles Tony Bergstrom (Sr. 6'6, 315 lbs.) and John Cullen (Sr. 6'5, 305 lbs.) form a solid pair of tackles. Bergstrom is a future NFL tackle, and Cullen is a JuCo transfer who is a physical run blocker.  The primary backup at tackle isKapua Sai (So. 6'5, 307 lbs.).

Inside, Tevita Stephens (Jr. 6'1, 300 lbs.) moves from guard to center. While he will quarterback the line, he also left the guard position inexperienced.  Mike Mason (Jr. 6'3, 316 lbs.) and Sam Brenner (Jr. 6'4, 300 lbs.) start at the spots.  Mason is another JuCo transfer, and Brenner is in his first season starting.  

That concludes Part I of the Utah Utes preview.  Fire away with any additional comments.    

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