Utah Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

Posted Aug 7, 2006

Utah Utes Preview 2006 - Utah Ute Further Analysis

1st and Ten – Two heads are better than none – One was the second team All-MWC quarterback.  One had one of the best bowl games of the 2005 season, and for any season for that matter – throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns against one of the better defenses in the ACC.  One is more of a dual threat type – potential pass/run threat who puts pressure on defenses with his quickness and escapability.  One throws the ball on par with the best QBs in the MWC.  He’s Brian Johnson.  He’s Brett Ratliff.  Welcome to QB Controversy 101, err, it’s a quarterback sit-u-a-tion.  Welcome to a coach’s worst nightmare and the best situation imaginable, all at the same time.  Last year’s starter (well, for much of the season), Johnson, had some rough spots early in the season, but he found his way throwing and running throughout the season, up until his injury in December.  Even missing the last game of the season and the bowl game, Johnson threw for just over 3,600 yards and ran for 478 yards in only ten games.  The question becomes how healthy is the knee that contains the torn ACL he shredded against New Mexico.  Ratliff, on the other hand, took over for Johnson and may have been an upgrade considering the way he played the last two games of the season.  Although Ratliff might not be the equal of Johnson running, he really didn’t have to be – the kid can sling it (he isn’t slow, but he isn’t Johnson either).  621 yards and 8 touchdowns against two bowl teams are phenomenal.  Find a QB not named Leinart or Young who had two consecutive games against two bowl teams like that.  Hard to think of one, huh?  Either way, it’s a wonderful sit-u-a-tion to have, but then again, having to choose one of these two effective QBs is going to be rough.  Good luck, coach.

2nd and Seven – It’s not the Waffle House, it’s The Weddle House – The NFL draft that just concluded in late April told us a little something about defensive backs.  The more versatile that you are, the better off you are.  Safety.  Corner.  Quarterback, even.  That’s Eric Weddle, the 2005 MWC defensive player of the year.  Throughout the season, Weddle showed he could play any of the above.  Need a cover corner to lockdown a big-time receiver?  #32.  Need a playmaker to float in the middle?  #32.  Need to change things up on offense a little bit?  #32.  That’s right, he’s as complete a player as there is anywhere in the nation.  He covered Calvin Johnson throughout the entire Emerald Bowl and held him to 2 catches.  Two.  He probably will play more corner this season, but then again, he could play anywhere, anytime, which means an NFL future may be next up on the menu at the Weddle House. 

3rd and Three – Big Shoes – Over the past two years, the Utah receiving corps has lost Steve Savoy, Paris Warren, John Madsen and Emerald Bowl hero Travis LaTendresse.  Yet, the coaching staff is confident that the receivers coming back are going to be more asset than liability.  In fact, they’re confident that this group can be just as good, or better, than the groups that we all saw in 2004 and 2005.  Brian Hernandez was third on the team in receptions last year with 39, but he did average over 18 yards per catch.  Brent Casteel also had 39 receptions, but should see more touches this year.  Derrek Richards and Marquis Wilson can break a game wide open with their speed and ability to run after the catch.  Ratliff and Johnson won’t suffer from lack of productive receivers, that’s for sure. 

4th and One – Tackles aren’t just numbers on a stat sheet – The Ute offensive tackles are perhaps the best linemen on either side of the ball.  Tavo Tupola and Jason Boone provide solid versatility from their edge protection position and will keep either QB (or both) clear from outside rushers.  Neither one of them is big, which isn’t too surprising in the Utah spread offense, but they move extremely well, which, again, isn’t too surprising in the Utah spread offense.  Speed rushers shouldn’t give them too much problem, and they’re not required to blow people off the ball as in a power running game.  They might not be as great as former star OT Jordan Gross was, but both of them should be All-MWC by the end of the season.

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