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UCLA Football vs. Utah Utes Coaching and Special Teams Preview: Utah Coaches Do More With Less

Utah also always seems to have very good guys playing special teams for them, too.

UCLA v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Before we get to the Utah coaching staff, let’s look at their special teams players.

Andy Phillips has been a solid collegiate kicker all four years at Utah. He’s made just under 84% of his field goal attempts and, while his career long is 53, his long so far this year is 47 yards. This year, he’s been very reliable. He missed a 36-yarder against Southern Utah and a 48-yarder against Cal and that’s it. He’s never missed a PAT in four years. So, don’t be surprised if Head Coach Kyle Whittingham calls on him to kick a long field goal if needed.

Utah has a new punter this season in Mitch Wishnowsky. A transfer from Santa Barbara CC, Wishnowsky leads the nation in punting with an average of 49.13 yards per punt. Wishnowski has landed 15 of his punts inside the 20-yard line. That’s 58.06% inside the 20. He has 8 inside the 10-yard line and 6 of those have been at or inside the 5-yard line. That’s pretty amazing.

Looking at the Utes’ returners, Boobie Hobbs leads the nation in total punt returns (20) and is fifth in the Pac-12 in punt return average (6.8). On kickoffs, Utah will line up Cory Butler-Byrd and Julian Blackmon. Butler-Byrd is averaging 23.3 yards per return while Blackmon is averaging 13 yards per return.

Let’s turn our attention to the Utah coaching staff.

In our frustration over the state of UCLA Football, some have thrown around the name of Utah’s head coach as a possible replacement. His official Utah bio states:

As an assistant and head coach, Kyle Whittingham has played a role in 180 victories in 22 seasons at Utah. The 2008 National Coach of the Year, has participated in more Utah victories than any football coach in school history. More than half of those have come in 11 years as the head coach, when he is 95-46.

Whittingham has been almost unbeatable in bowl games and his 90-percent bowl winning percentage is the best of any coach in NCAA history. His 9-1 bowl record exceeds the NCAA minimum of seven wins.

Wow. Quite a resume. It’s no surprise that Whittingham’s contract was extended through 2020. His intense workout routines emphasize going all out during practices with the intention of good habits playing out at game time. His team has been bitten by the injury bug this year on both sides of the ball, but the 6-1 Utes have fared well so far.

After reading some things Whittingham has said about loving the state of Utah and calling it "his home", I don’t think we would ever really have a shot at hiring this guy. He is comfortable, has had success even though Utah has largely been underappreciated, and he has a good chance at winning the South division this year. Even though UCLA is a step up (in my biased opinion), I feel like he’d never leave Utah.

Dennis Erickson is the Assistant Coach/Running Backs Coach for the Utes. He has 23 years of coaching experience under his belt along with two national championships (1989 and 1991 at Miami) and he helped develop junior college transfer Devontae Booker into a two-time All-Pac-12 selection and a 1,000-yard rusher in back to back seasons in 2014-15. A fourth-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos after his senior season, Booker set Utah career records for rushing average (120.6) and 100-yard rushing games (14, tied). Once referred to as Utah’s "odd couple", Erickson and Booker had a great relationship. "He's like another father figure to me," Booker told Bleacher Report’s Greg Couch.

To which Erickson replied, "I hope so. That's what I've felt I've always been as a coach, a second father to players. It's more than just about football. It's about life in general."

I was also surprised to find that Erickson has been the Pac-10 coach of the year three times at three schools. His coaching career seemed to hit the skids after his stint at ASU, but he has reclaimed success as an assistant at Utah.

Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding serve as Co-Offensive Coordinators. Roderick is in his 12th year and is a member of Whittingham’s original staff. He calls plays down from the booth, something he did in three past seasons (including last year). Roderick called plays in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, where the Utes beat BYU 35-28. He has also served as the wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. Harding is in his third year on the Utah coaching staff and his second as the co-offensive coordinator. Harding, who has coached the offensive line since coming to Utah, makes the final offensive decisions in his role as co-coordinator. Harding is often described as being one of the loudest, but also smartest, men on the field, and players have been known to hum the theme to "Jurassic Park" as he walks by them on the sideline because of his imposing presence.

Morgan Scalley has moved up the ranks in Utah football, starting as a graduate assistant in 2006 to being named the Defensive Coordinator back in January this year. Scalley has previous coordinator experience as the special teams' coordinator last season and the recruiting coordinator from 2009-15.

While he has relinquished those duties with his move to defensive coordinator, he will continue to coach the safeties. Scalley has a very interesting approach to teaching (not just coaching) his defense, when he incorporated trivia games into practices so his players would know everything there is to know about their positions and schemes. He wants each player to know the responsibility of other positions on any given play in the playbook.

An AP article by Kadeem Copeland quotes Scalley:

If you know what you're doing and what an offense is trying to do, you can make so many more plays. That combined with no stupid penalties, no drawing attention to yourself, knowing when to let up on a quarterback, knowing what the rules of the game are. The game will slow down the more you know about situational football, the more you know about your opponent. And if you have the athletes out there, that makes a big difference.

As a teacher, I can appreciate this. He’s taking the opportunity to turn a very physical game into something mental that requires intellect and specific knowledge. It’s no surprise the Utes are ranked just above the Bruins nationally in total defense.

While UCLA definitely has more talent on the roster, I don’t think I can safely say the same thing about the coaching staff. Kennedy Polamalu will definitely be outcoached by Utah’s Roderick and Harding. I don’t think Tom Bradley will be shown up by Scalley, but it’s a toss up between Mora and Whittingham. Looking at the teams’ records, it’s obvious that Utah is definitely doing more with less.

Go Bruins!