Editor’s Note: The following was written and submitted by Jason Hall.
What have we learned about Utah Utes, two weeks into the 2015 campaign? What is the offense going to look like? How is the defense gong to hold up against the daunting Pac-12 offenses? These are questions that most fans still have, even after a pain of convincing victories. Let’s look at some of these questions and see what we can expect.
Offense – What is the offense going to look like? Will the offensive output improve this year over years past? Will Coach Roderick open up the offense more?
Coach A-Rod would probably like to open up the offense more, but he is limited in his options by the personnel. With expected contributors like Tim Patrick & Raelon Singleton not on the field, Travis Wilson has had to rely on freshmen like Britain Covey & Tyrone Smith. While Covey has been the most pleasant surprise of the year so far, Smith has been underwhelming at best. Even veterans like Kenneth Scott & Bubba Poole haven’t been productive. Wilson has been relegated to short passes and quick throws, to be able to stay upright. Is the limited dimensions to the offense a result of the competition and the coaches’ desire to leave plans under wrap for the conference season? Probably. But beyond that, the WRs have dropped some balls & Wilson hasn’t been able to take the time to read the defenses. Receivers haven’t been getting separation, which has cut off the deep threat.
With the box stacked to stop Booker, you would think the passing game would open up more, but that hasn’t been the case. Booker has had nowhere to run and the short passing game has been the only stable form of offense.
What is the problem?
The offensive line is the key to all of this and the defensive lines have essentially dominated them over the last two weeks. Coach Whitt called their work “average at best, below average at times.” That is being generous. They aren’t getting any push, which isn’t opening any holes for Booker. He really worked for every yard last week and didn’t see much daylight at all. He got his 120 yards last week out of sheer will, strength and determination. The OL did him no favors. They haven’t been providing adequate pass protection, which has forced Travis to flee the pocket and break off his progressions to the safety valve. With Travis missing a few weeks, this is even more important as Thompson simply can’t pass the ball affectively & will need to rely more on the run. If the OL doesn’t start to improve, this will be a rough year for the offense. They have been the most disappointing position group in my opinion to date. This has to change if the Utes are going to compete in conference.
Defense – Will this defense be able to hold up against the potent offenses that they will face in the conference?
Everyone is complaining about the disappearance of “Sack Lake City” this year. But do they realize we have five interceptions and six takeaways, compared to one INT that was meaningless?
Remember 2 years ago when the secondary couldn’t get an interception to save its life?
Former Ute, Jake Murphy tweeted out this week that ints > sacks which I completely agree with. They aren’t getting the sacks because they aren’t blitzing much. They aren’t blitzing much because they are playing nickel most of the time. So with an extra DB, they can cover the pass better, thus leading to more INTs. The sacks will come, the DL will continue to pressure the QB and they will clog up the middle for the run game. As long as they defense continues to create turnovers, while limiting big plays and stopping the run, Utah will be just fine. The injury to Hunter Dimmick is key, because without him, they lose their best pass rusher. Fitts filled in very admirably & will get better and better as he gets back in the groove of actual game time football.
So after two weeks we have learned that we probably still have a lot to learn about this team. The Oregon game will really show us what to expect. And if Travis is back by then, we should be able to make more accurate predictions as to what to expect from this team. These early games are to feel things out, look at who will be important contributors, and get the offense & defense really clicking in preparation for conference play. The coaches know what they have and what they can expect from their players; we just need to sit back and enjoy the ride.
This week Utah heads to Fresno to play a Bulldog team that lost 73-21 to Ole Miss last week and was outgained 607 – 316. They gave up nearly 400 yards passing & 215 yards rushing. Ole Miss had 10 different players with a carry & ran for a total of 4 rushing TDs. They also threw for 4 TDs using 3 different QBs. Ten different receivers caught passes for Ole Miss 4 different receivers caught passes for more than 20 yards. So what does this all mean? Well it seems apparent that the Utes should be able to take advantage of the Bulldog defense both on the ground & through the air. Fresno gave up 6.1 yards per rush and over 10 yards per pass completion. They are also susceptible to turning the ball over. Fresno has 7 turnovers in the first 2 weeks & Utah should be aggressively looking to increase that number. I would look for the Utes to try to wear down the Bulldog defense with their speed and size.
On offense, Fresno senior running back Marteze Waller is the real deal. He has big play, quick strike ability & the Utes will have to know where he is at all times. He is clearly their Booker & they will go to him often. He has run for 154 and 91 yards in the first two weeks & could be a problem if not kept under wraps. Utah will most likely look to bring more pressure to force the Bulldogs into making mistakes. I would expect a handful of sacks, at least 2 interceptions and possibly a fumble or two. If Utah can limit their mistakes, continues with their power running game, coupled with their quick strike passing game, the offense should be able to move the ball effectively.
All of this should translate into a convincing win for the Utah Utes, to the tune of 52-13.