The last two times UCLA has traveled to Salt Lake City to take on the Utes, Utah blasted the Bruins by scores of 44-6 and 31-6. Thankfully, the Utah Utes are coming to Westwood this year, and it would be nice to see the Bruins return the favor.
The Utes began the season as darkhorse Pac-12 South contenders, but the wheels have fallen off the wagon lately. Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn following a medical retirement, and Utah is currently 2-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play. Last week's game against USC was billed as the biggest game in Rice-Eccles Stadium history in the preseason, and really turned out to be a microcosm of the Utes' season so far. Utah jumped out to to an early 14-0 lead, and the Utes looked like they were going to roll before being losing 38-14 the rest of the way and falling 38-28.
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, but the jump to the Pac-12 has probably been more difficult than most Ute fans would have expected.
Last year, Utah jumped at the chance to sign Norm Chow and transformed for a spread offense to a west coast offense. After one disappointing season, Chow moved on to the University of Hawaii and I doubt many in Salt Lake City are mourning the loss. In his place, Brian Johnson has been promoted from quarterbacks coach and now is one of if not the youngest coordinator in the country. Some of you may remember him playing quarterback for the Utes- it wasn't very long ago. The results thus far have been a mixed bag. Utah is currently 112th in total offense, 117th in rushing offense, and 102nd in passing offense, and 89th in scoring offense, but have only turned the ball over 7 times despite replacing their starting quarterback.
Defensively, Kalani Fifita Sitake is in his fourth year as defensive coordinator. Utah is 56th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 24.6 ppg. They are very good at rushing defense, allowing only 114.8 ypg, 27th in the nation, but they do give up 235.2 ypg through the air, which is 71st nationally.
With the loss of Wynn, Utah has turned to Jon Hays (6'0, 212 lbs., Sr.). Hays is a transfer from Butte CC, but played a lot when Wynn was hurt last season. On the season, he's completing 59% of his passes for 627 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Utah's back-up, Tyler Wilson (6'6, 220 lbs., Fr.) is being groomed to take over next year and will see action. He is a big, strong runner and has shown big play ability. He's rushed for two touchdowns and is 8/10 passing for 98 yards and 1 touchdown.
John White (5'9, 190 lbs., Sr.) leads the Utah rushing attack. White rushed for over 1500 yards last year and scored 15 touchdowns. He hasn't been quite as good this year, rushing 78 times for 301 yards and 1 touchdown, but he is a very capable back. Despite his smallish size, the JuCo transfer takes the lion's share of the carries and does not leave much for his backups. White did miss the BYU game and was limited in the Arizona St. game, but he should be healthy this Saturday.
After White, Kelvin York (5'11, 223, Jr.) will get carries as Utah's big back. He has 25 carries for 127 yards and 1 touchdown this year. We may also see Jarrell Oliver (5'8, 210, Fr.), a true freshman out of Texas.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Utah returns nearly all of their receiving corps from last year, and it is a good group. Utah spreads the ball around a lot, so the numbers of each of the receivers may not jump out at you. DeVonte Christopher (6'1, 200 lbs., Sr.) stepped up as the #1 wide receiver last season. Christopher has 14 catches for 145 yards and 1 touchdown this year. Christopher is joined by Dres Anderson (6'1, 185 lbs., So.), who played very well as a true freshman last year and is off to a decent start with 13 catches for 163 yards and 1 touchdown, and Kenneth Scott (6'3, 205 lbs., So.), who has proven to be a big play receiver with 8 catches for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Utah also returns Reggie Dunn (6'0, 173 lbs., Sr.) and Luke Matthews (6'2, 206 lbs., Sr.), and adds JuCo Anthony Denham (6'4, 222 lbs., Jr.) as a big target.
At tight end, Jake Murphy (6'4, 255 lbs., So.) starts and has been productive with 14 catches for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns. Utah will also use David Rolf (6'4, 250 lbs., Sr.), Dallin Rogers (6'3, 245 lbs., Sr.), who started last year before getting lost for most of the year due to injury, and Wesley Tonga (6'4, 250 lbs., Sr.).
The Utah offensive line only returns 2 starters from last year, and lost both starting tackles to graduation. Utah has given up 12 sacks and 33 tackles for loss this year in their 5 games, and as mentioned above, are really struggling to run the ball this year.
The returning starters, Tevita Stephens (6'1, 300 lbs.. Sr.) returns as the anchor of the line at center, and Sam Brenner (6'4, 300 lbs., Sr.) returns at the RG spot. Jeremiah Tofaeono (6'2, 317 lbs., Jr.) starts at the LG sport, and appeared in 13 games last season.
The youth of the line is more pronounced on the outside, where Percy Taumoelau (6'4, 315 lbs., Jr.) and Daniel Nielson (6'6, 317, Fr.) start at LT and RT, respectively. Taumoelau may be a junior, but he did not play much last year, and obviously Nielson is getting his first game experience as a redshirt freshman.
That concludes Part I of the Utah Utes preview. Fire away with any additional comments.