With the matchup in Salt Lake City coming up this Saturday, we took the opportunity to have a chat with Sean, the editor of the great Utah Utes' SBN site BlockU. Sean does a great job there, and we appreciate that he took the time to share a closer look at our opponent this weekend.
BruinsNation: I think it's fair to say that neither of us is enjoying the football season the way we hoped to at the beginning. In Utah's case, how much of that do you think is due to the new conference lineup? Has the Pac-12 been what you expected?
BlockU: It's funny, most Utah fans felt this team would win seven or eight regular season games, with the most optimistic thinking nine or ten. Right now, the Utes are on pace for the most reasonable of our expectations. Of course, I don't think anyone expected to take this path - you know, injured quarterback, four consecutive conference losses. So the path might be different, but the season is progressing as many felt it would, albeit not nearly as smoothly.
The reason for that I think is partly due to the uptick in competition. It's easier to bounce back from injuries and inexperience when you're lining up against bad Mountain West Conference teams. With that said, the loss of [starting QB] Jordan Wynn has been the biggest issue here. Though I've got no evidence to back up this claim, I do believe had Wynn not gone down, the Utes are still realistically contending for the Pac-12 South.
BN: I was sorry to see Wynn go down with an injury (Wynn had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder). I always hate seeing college kids lose a season for an injury. Your backup QB John Hays had a tough start in his first 4 games since taking over, but has been really nice in the last 3 games. Did anything change or was it a matter of getting acclimated?
BlockU: It certainly helps that he's been able to get more experience under his belt, but it also helps the schedule has eased up quite a bit. It was only two games ago, against Cal, that Hays had his worst game of the season in that blowout loss, so I don't want to get ahead of myself and claim he's finally over the hill. I hope he is and another week of strong play could suggest it, but Oregon State and Arizona certainly aren't known for their defenses this year, so...
BN: I guess Norm Chow is an obvious place to go...the Bruins were disappointed with our offense under Chow, but we have had more than enough dysfunctionality in our program to go around, and our offensive struggles have been far more complicated than what can just be blamed on an Offensive Coordinator. Utah's offense got off to a slow start this year and you recently wrote about your frustration. Of course there is always a transition period at first, but are you seeing the kind of things from a Norm Chow offense that you expected?
BlockU: The offense has certainly gone through growing pains. It's hard to really know where they would be had Wynn not gone down. Even so, for the most part, I think Ute fans are approving of the job Norm Chow has done. It's not easy starting a D-II quarterback who's solely playing here because his program, Nebraska-Omaha, decided to cut their football program earlier this year. Yet the offense has improved the last two weeks and I think, against Arizona, Chow called his best game of the season. We're hopeful, with the gains Jon Hays has made the past two weeks, that the offense will continue to improve.
BN: Utah's offense was ranked 52nd last season but finds itself around 110 right now? What have been the biggest differences this season to account for that?
BlockU: I think the biggest differences have been the injury of Wynn, the lack of depth on the offensive line, the replacement of our leading rushers and, obviously, the transition between coordinators. Three and a half games into the season, Utah was forced to start a new quarterback, was still getting used to the Chow scheme and their running back, John White IV, was only making his fourth start of the season.
It's not going to be easy producing impressive and solid statistics with those issues.
BN: Aside from the QB position, who are your big playmakers on offense and what offensive strengths we should watch for? How would you tell our defensive coordinator Joe Tresey to prepare for the Utes? (don't worry, he isn't reading. I can assure you he isn't listening to anything we're saying this year).
BlockU: The MVP of this year just might be John White. He's already rushed for 1,000 yards and if he hits the century mark for the Utes, it's almost a guarantee they're going to win. With the quarterback issues as of late, he really has put the offense on his back and carried them the last couple of games, which has made it much easier for Hays to get into his own groove. So, Utah's running game is definitely their strongest position this season.
BN: Switching over to defense, has Utah faced a pistol formation team recently? (TCU runs it some, though I'm certainly not comparing the Bruins' output to TCU's). Who are your playmakers on defense and how do you think they will adjust to face the UCLA offense?
BlockU: I don't think they've seen the pistol this year, though maybe some variations of it. Utah's defense is definitely one of the best in the conference, though it can be vulnerable in the secondary. Really, there are too many play makers to mention because, the unit as a whole, just seems to get the job done. I was nervous last week with how they would prepare against Nick Foles, and though he got off some good passes, for the most part, they defended him about as well as anyone could hope.
If the offense can stay on the field a respectable amount of time and doesn't turn the ball over, putting the defense in a bad spot, they'll shut down almost every offense.
BN: UCLA's most recent trips to the state of Utah haven't been much fun (44 pts, 59 pts...). What's with the hospitality there? How do you see this game playing out for our most recent visit to your state?
BlockU: I think you'll find Utah fans are very welcoming to opposing teams. Certainly there will be dick fans, but on the whole, I'd like to think we're pretty good in that regard. I also don't expect near the romp this year as we saw in ‘07. UCLA is a better team and Utah probably isn't as strong as those Utes. Plus, it was the perfect storm - but hey, that loss probably ended the Karl Dorrell era, so you're welcome!
BN: I imagine the lack of hospitality is limited to the teams on the field, and doesn't extend to the fans as much. I've visited Salt Lake City and it is a beautiful place. Any suggestions for the Bruin fans who are making the trip? Could you share any local campus secrets for places to eat or things to see or do?
BlockU: The great thing about the UofU campus is that it's located just outside downtown Salt Lake City. In fact, you can stay downtown, head up on the light rail and it'll drop you off right in front of the stadium. There are some good eats around campus, though, specifically The Pie. There are other places around campus that you can check out, or just head downtown for the local pubs, restaurants (or even faster food, like Crown Burger - a place Rick Majerus lived in while he was coaching the Runnin' Utes).
Overall, I think a great deal of people would be mildly surprised at what SLC has to offer.
Also, make sure to stop by the tailgating lot just south-east of the stadium before the game. I'm sure many Ute fans would happily accept you guys.
Thanks again to Sean for his time, and good luck to the Utes this Saturday (but not too much).