CFN Preview 2013 - Utah Utes
Utah WR Quinton Pedroza
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Utah Utes Breakdown
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- Utah Previews 2012 |
By Richard Cirminiello
It's Year 3, and Utah is still slowly adjusting to life as a member of the Pac-12.
Head coach: Kyle Whittingham
Ninth year: 71-32
Off. 21, Def. 28, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 34
Ten Best Utah Players
1. DE Trevor Reilly, Sr.
2. LB Brian Blechen, Sr.
3. FS Eric Rowe, Jr.
4. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Soph.
5. WR Kenneth Scott, Jr.
6. WR Dres Anderson, Jr.
7. TE Jake Murphy, Jr.
8. DT Tenny Palepoi, Sr.
9. DE Nate Orchard, Jr.
10. QB Travis Wilson, Soph.
8/31 Utah State
9/7 Weber State
9/14 Oregon State
9/21 at BYU
9/28 OPEN DATE
10/19 at Arizona
10/26 at USC
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/9 Arizona State
11/16 at Oregon
11/23 at Washington St
The Utes have had their predictable hardships since moving over from the Mountain West Conference two seasons ago, compiling a ho-hum 13-12 record. Quality wins have been scarce. But the program knew the magnitude of the task it was taking on, and also knew that the days of competing for BCS bowl berths would be a lot harder to replicate going forward.
Although the Utes are not constructed to perennially go stride-for-stride with the likes of USC, Oregon and Stanford, the bar in Salt Lake City starts at qualifying for a bowl game. And for the first time since 2002, that did not happen in 2012. In fact, the Sept. 15 Holy War upset of BYU aside, Utah had very little to cheer about last fall.
Utah's recent struggles in the Pac-12 can be attributed to an offense that lacked consistency, especially at the quarterback position. Jordan Wynn was constantly hurt, which derailed any attempts at continuity. Enter a very new era on offense that'll feature sophomore Travis Wilson at quarterback and Dennis Erickson coordinating a more up-tempo spread offense. After finishing 105th nationally a year ago, the Utes are wisely seeking out a very new direction in an effort to ignite a stale attack.
The D can't be the same without three talented linemen, namely current Carolina Panther Star Lotulelei. Still, this program has earned a time-tested reputation for doing more with less on this side of the ball. DE Trevor Reilly, LB Brian Blechen and FS Eric Rowe are staples. And SS Tyron Morris-Edwards, DE Nate Orchard and DT Tenny Palepoi are going to benefit from bigger roles and more responsibility. The defense might take a step in reverse, but not so much that it becomes a liability.
Utah enters 2013 with a young franchise quarterback, an aging offensive coordinator and a firm edict to get back on track following its first losing season in a decade. Head coach Kyle Whittingham, one of the constants amid the changes, has been justifiably antsy this offseason, an expected reaction to his team's middling early performance as a member of the Pac-12.
What to watch for on offense: A new York. Utah desperately needs a feature back now that John White has used up his eligibility. Fingers are crossed that senior Kelvin York can shake off the injuries that plagued him in last year's debut and carry the ball at least 200 times. He arrived from Fullerton (Calif.) College as a ballyhooed recruit, but was only healthy enough for 60 touches for 273 yards and three touchdowns. The Utes have plenty of other options out of the backfield, but none with the measurables or potential of York. If he has no limitations, he's liable to run for 1,000 yards and attract the attention of pro scouts.
What to watch for on defense: Tenny's from heaven. Senior Tenny Palepoi could bloom into a godsend for a Utah D-line beginning life after Star Lotulelei in the middle. Palepoi was under the radar last season, his first since leaving Snow (UT) College as a JUCO All-American. But he improved as his debut as a Ute evolved, and has just continued to get better during the offseason. Palepoi should not be compared to Lotulelei. However, it also should not be assumed that the successor cannot be an impact player on the interior for Utah.
The team will be far better if… it becomes a whole lot more efficient on third downs. Offensive conversions can have a trickle-down effect, dramatically impacting the offense and the defense. Longer drives mean more points and gassed opposing defenses. The 2012 Utes, though, with their revolving door at quarterback, converted just one-third of their tries to finish 106th in the country. If that number cannot be upgraded significantly, the offense is going to be every bit as erratic as it was a year ago.
The Schedule: Where are the wins going to come from? Utah shouldn't be 3-9 bad, and the offense can't be any worse, but without pulling off a few shockers here and there, this could be a rough go in an improved Pac-12. It's not like the non-conference slate is a peach with Utah State still strong and the road game at BYU certain to be nasty. Weber State is the only sure-thing victory on the slate.
The Utes gets Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford at home in the first three conference games, and they need to take advantage of the opportunity with four of the next five games away from Rice-Eccles with just one home game – Arizona State – from October 3rd to November 30th. A winning season is possible by coming up with a few early home victories and getting by Washington State and Colorado late, but the away game at Oregon isn't going to help and facing Arizona and USC in back-to-back October weeks on the road is going to be a problem.
Best offensive player: Sophomore LT Jeremiah Poutasi. Poutasi is this good. And the Utes offense is this unsettled. The hulking 6-5, 345-pounder kicked off his college career in style, leading the team in knockdown blocks and earning honorable mention All-Pac-12. The staff has confidently tasked him with the quarterback's backside, a ringing endorsement for such a young player. Poutasi will keep getting better as his technique and bend improve, meaning he could be the kind of blocker who contemplates early entry into the NFL Draft following the 2014 season.
Best defensive player: Senior DE Trevor Reilly. It doesn't matter much where Reilly begins the play, because he's going to get into the backfield no matter the position. The linebacker-turned-lineman is being counted on to incite a pass rush that needs his motor and moves now more than ever. The 6-5, 245-pound versatile stalwart came to town without the security of scholarship, yet will leave it as a heralded Ute. Reilly not only led the 2012 team with 69 tackles, but also added 6.5 stops for loss, 4.5 sacks, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Travis Wilson. Utah needs a better brand of play from its quarterbacks, which is code for Wilson growing up in a hurry. No, he doesn't have to be Alex Smith just two years into his Utah tenure, but he does have to grasp the new system and employ an underrated corps of receivers and tight ends. Ready or not, this is Wilson's team, and he'll be given every opportunity to become the multi-dimensional face of the program's offense.
The season will be a success if ... Utah returns to the postseason. The schedule is brutal, save for a September visit from Weber State and final games versus Wazzu and Colorado. In between, however, the Utes must travel to Provo, Arizona, USC and Oregon, and host UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State. If this team, which has issues on both sides of the ball, earns a 13th game, go ahead and chalk it up as a solid year for the players and the coaching staff.
Key game: Sept. 21 at BYU. Maybe at some point in the future, the Utes will develop a Pac-12 rivalry that approaches the in-state Holy War with the Cougars. But until that day, this will perennially remain as the most important match up on the schedule. Utah has won three straight in the heated series, including a 24-21 nail-biter in 2012, so BYU will be even feistier than normal, if that's possible.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Time of possession: Utah 32:08 – Opponents 27:52
- Passing yards per game: Utah 190.7 – Opponents 235.2
- Third-quarter scoring: Utah 76 - Opponents 44
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