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UCLA Football Preview: Utah’s Coaching and Special Teams is Solid

Both the coaches and specialists for the Utes have impressive pedigrees.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the UCLA Bruins will welcome the Utah Utes to the Rose Bowl.

We’ve already looked at the offensive and defensive units of the Utes. Let’s take a quick look at the Utah coaching staff and special teams.

Utah Coaching Staff

The Utah coaching staff is led, of course, by head coach Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham is in his 15th year at the helm for the Utes. That makes him the longest-tenured head football coach in the conference. It also makes him one of the longest-tenured coaches in all of college football. The fact is that coaches just don’t stay in one place that long unless they are successful and Whittingham has done a good job at Utah.

He has led the Utes to a bowl game in 12 of his first 14 seasons and he has won 11 of those 12 bowl games. That’s unbelievable.

With that kind of success, it should come with little surprise that Whittingham’s assistants tend to change. The Utes’ offensive coordinator is Troy Taylor, who is in just his second season with Utah. Taylor joined Whittingham’s staff after spending 2016 as the co-offensive at Eastern Washington, where he led the top passing offense in the Football Championship Subdivision. Don’t make the assumption, however, that Taylor prefers the pass over the run. Last season, Zack Moss ran for 1,000 yards in Taylor’s offense. Taylor also mentored Washington QB Jake Browning starting in fifth grade as well as throughout high school when Taylor was coaching at Folsom High School.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is in his third season as the Utes’ DC. Scalley’s rise is actually the opposite of Taylor, who has moved around throughout his career. That’s because Scalley has been at Utah for his entire coaching career where he has worked his way up from a graduate assistant in 2006 to his present role as the team’s defensive coordinator. Since joining the staff as a full-time assistant in 2008, he has coached the Utes’ safeties while also serving as the team’s recruiting coordinator from 2009 until 2015 as well as the team’s Special Teams Coordinator in 2015. Scalley also played for Whittingham from 2001 to 2004 when the Utah head coach was the team’s defensive coordinator. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Scalley be given serious consideration as a potential replacement for Whittingham whenever he decides to leave program.

Special Teams

The Utes have a pair of senior specialists kicking for them. Mitch Wishnowsky won the 2016 Ray Guy award and is a two-time All-American punter. In 2016, Wishnowsky averaged 47.7 yards per punt, but that dipped to 43.9 in 2017. So far in 2018, his average is back up to 45.0. He does appear to have a few chinks in his armor this year as he has only had one punt go for a touchback so far this year, has just 13 punts inside the 20, and has just 8 punts longer than 50 yards.

Of course, having a senior placekicker in Matt Gay may have reduced some of Wishnowsky’s punts further downfield that would have increased some of the punter’s stats. Gay’s longest career field goal came last season when he hit one from 56 yards. So far this year, his long is 49, but he hasn’t been asked to try one from 50 yards or more. He’s been money inside the 40, going 6-for-6 between 30 and 39 yards, but he’s struggled between 40 and 49, making only 4 of his 7 attempts. He has been automatic on PAT tries, going 26-for-26 so far.

Sophomore Britain Covey has returned all but one punt for the Utes this year. He’s aceraging just 5.81 yards per return with a long of 28. He also had one of Utah’s three kickoff returns for 38 yards, the longest so far this year for Utah. Julian Blackmon is the only other Ute with any return yards. He returned his kickoff for 24 yards. Jameson Field is credited with a zero yard kickoff return as well. Clearly, most of the kickoffs to the Utes have been affected by the new touchback rule.

Outlook

The bad news here is that UCLA doesn’t seem to have much of an edge in this game when it comes to special teams because the Utes’ specialists are also very good. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a bad decision by either coaching staff regarding special teams can’t influence the outcome of the game. That’s still possible.

Just don’t count on UCLA winning a close game because of special teams play.


Go Bruins!