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Utah Preview 2006 - Offense
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Utah Utes Preview 2006 - Utah Ute Offense

What you need to know ... Utah's offense should once again be one of the Mountain West's most devastating thanks to an improved line, speedy receivers, and a great quarterback situation with Brian Johnson and Brett Ratliff each good enough to earn Player of the Year honors. The running game is the big question mark with no proven experience and operating on a prayer that gimpy backs like Darryl Poston and Mike Liti can get through a season healthy. Brian Hernandez leads a very fast receiving corps that will get better and better as the year goes on.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Brian Johnson
210-330, 2,892 yds, 18 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Brian Johnson
152 carries, 478 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Brian Hernandez
39 catches, 709 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Brett Ratliff or junior QB Brian Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior RB Darryl Poston
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Robert Conley
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Tavo Tupola
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson or Ratliff, 2) Tupola, 3) WR Brian Hernandez
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
Running back

There's no wrong answer here. Brian Johnson might be the best player in the Mountain West when he's 100% healthy, but he still has to prove that he can be the same all-around player after coming off a knee injury. Brett Ratliff was tremendous in relief duty late last season and is more than good enough lead the Utes to the conference title. Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady provides a big passing option, and Kevin Dunn is a nice prospect to work on for the future.
The key to the unit: Brian Johnson needs to be healthy enough to be Brian Johnson again, or else Brett Ratliff has to go from being a good unknown to a steady starter. (The rating is assuming Johnson will return healthy.)
Quarterback Rating: 9

Projected Starter
- Brian Johnson, Jr. - 210-330, 2,892 yds, 64%, 18 TD, 7 INT, 152 carries, 478 yds, 3.1 ypc, 8 TD
Considered to be the near perfect prospect to run the spread offense, Johnson did a great job of replacing Alex Smith throwing like a seasoned veteran while running well despite still learning on the fly. He was just starting to blow up with 1,425 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes in a four-game stretch before tearing his ACL just before the BYU game. He's not the biggest Utah quarterback, but he's good enough to be a Mountain West Player of the Year type of performer if he comes out of this fall, when he's able to return, with the starting job.

Top Backups
- Brett Ratliff, Sr. - 48-77, 642 yds, 62%, 8 TD, 2 INT, 22 carries, 101 yds, 4.6 ypc, 1 TD
The JUCO transfer saved the day last season when Brian Johnson went down late in the season. While not nearly the runner Johnson is, he was still effective with a 112-yard day in the win over BYU and he was razor-sharp throwing the ball in the dismantling of Georgia Tech. He's a polished passer with a live arm and is more than good enough to carry the offense.
- Tommy Grady, Jr.
The Oklahoma transfer had to sit out last year and now will push to try to get in the hunt for the number two job. He's not a runner, but at 6-7 and 235 pounds, he has a huge presence, one of the the best arms in America, and is a solid passer completing 12 of 14 passes in mop up duty behind Jason White.
- Kevin Dunn, RFr.
Never able to show what he was able to do thanks to shoulder problems, Dunn is healthy now and will get a few years to learn the position while hoping to position himself for the starting job in 2009. He's a solid 6-3 and 220 pounds with a strong, accurate arm.

Running Backs
It took almost all season, but Quinton Ganther finally became a steady runner who helped carry the offense over his final four appearances. Now he's gone making the running back situation iffy at best with no proven experience to count on. Former USC back Darryl Poston has the speed to be a game-breaker, but he has to prove he can hold up after having knee problems throughout his career. Mike Liti has had a variety of injury issues, and Darrell Mack, the most talented back of the group, needs work on blocking and the finer points of the attack.
The key to the unit: Get a good rotation to keep everyone fresh. A true number one back hasn't emerged, so this might be the dreaded tailback-by-committee until someone can find a groove.
Running Back Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- Darryl Poston, Sr. - 6 carries, 19 yds, 3.2 ypc
The surprise of spring ball, the former USC Trojan showed that he's back to his speedy self after his career had gone nowhere thanks to knee injuries. He got an extra year of eligibility and he appears ready to take full advantage with the wheels to crank out big yards in chunks.

Top Backups
- Mike Liti, Jr. - 12 carries, 28 yds, 2.3 ypc, 2 catches, 4 yds
Liti is the power back in the mix, but he can't seem to stay healthy with a shoulder injury being his biggest problem. He knows the offense and is a strong blocker as well as a receiver if he can stay on the field.
- Darrell Mack, Soph. - 39 carries, 147 yds, 3.8 ypc, 2 catches, 13 yds, 4.3 ypc
The team's most talented all-around back, the 6-0, 216-pound true sophomore saw a little bit of work last season in blowout finishing as the team's fourth leading rusher. He has a nice mix of speed and power, but he needs to be a bit sharper in all the aspects of the offense.

The Utes will be fine despite losing top two targets Travis LaTendresse and John Madsen. A variety of injuries to the receiving corps last season allowed several young players get their feet wet, and it'll pay off with an exciting group forming around Brian Hernandez. Sophomores Brent Casteel and Marquis Wilson are fast playmakers who'll each get the ball in their hands in a variety of ways, while Derrek Richards brings even more speed. The depth is lacking in a huge way; there will be problems if injuries strike like they did last season.
The key to the unit: Brian Hernandez has to prove he's a number one target while the rest of the speedsters have to explode as expected.
Receiver Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- Brian Hernandez, Sr. - 39 catches, 709 yds, 18.2 ypc, 3 TD
Hernandez had a nice season finishing as the team's third leading receiver despite never being quite right thanks to an ankle injury. He can be a big play receiver evidenced by a two-game stretch catching 10 passes for 260 yards against Colorado State and San Diego State. A smallish, tough receiver at 6-0 and 175 pounds, he has been around the block and then some coming to Utah
as a JUCO transfer after starting out at Georgia Tech before going to Arizona State before moving to Pima CC in Phoenix.

- Derrek Richards, Jr. - 16 catches, 239 yds, 14.9 ypc, 4 TD
One of the team's fastest players, Richards, thanks to his 4.4 speed, was great over the second half of last year turning into a steady target highlighted by a three-catch, 87-yard, two touchdown game against New Mexico. He'll be expected to be a home run hitter now that he's the full-time starter.

- Marques Wilson, Soph. - 9 catches, 149 yds, 16.6 ypc
He was originally supposed to redshirt, but he was forced into the mix over the second half of the season when injuries hit the top receivers. He's a nice all-around offensive weapon with tremendous speed and lighting quick open field moves.

- Brent Casteel, Sr. - Soph. - 39 catches, 426 yds, 10.9 ypc, 2 TD, 35 carries, 208 yds, 5.9 ypc, 1 TD
Mostly used as a possession receiver at the H spot despite his 4.5 speed and great athleticism, Casteel will find a spot somewhere in the starting mix. He tied for third on the team in receiving and also finished third on the team in rushing. The quarterback situation might influence him more than any of the other receivers; his production fell off the map when Brett Ratliff took over. He'll also serve as a kick returner.

- Tight end Chris Joppru, Fr.
When Utah uses a tight end, it'll be up to freshmen Joppru and Lance Bordelau along with defensive linemen Jason Voss, Pate Moleni and Colt Sampson to be used more as blockers than anything else.

Top Backups
- Freddie Brown, Soph. - 2 catches, 43 yds
Brown add some good size to the corps at 6-3 and 217 pounds. He was a late addition to last year's team and caught on early getting on the field in the second half of the season with his big play coming on a 37-yard catch against Wyoming. He's a smart, athletic receiver playing behind Brian Hernandez.
- Sean Smith, RFr.
Originally a running back , the 6-3, 217-pound Smith will be a big target behind Brent Casteel after moving over to receiver. He might not be a game-breaker, but he's far more physical than the rest of the Ute receivers.

Offensive Linemen
The line should grow into one of the best in the Mountain West as long as a solid replacement is found for Jesse Boone at center. Kyle Gunther and Tyler Williams will battle for the spot, but the rest of the line should be fantastic with All-Mountain West candidates Tavo Tupola and Jason Boone at the tackles and rising stars Robert Conley and Zane Beadles at the guards. The top backups arrived from the JUCO ranks where guard Corey Seiuli and tackle Dustin Hensel are ready to play right away.
The key to the unit: Cut down on the sack total. It's a bit misleading since the Utah quarterbacks run so much, but the line allowed 29 sacks last season. The more that number drops, the more the offense will explode.
Offensive Line Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- OT Tavo Tupola, Sr.
The former safety has bulked up into a heck of a 300-pound tackle. He earned second-team All-Mountain West honors last year and should be even more of a playmaker this season as the team's top offensive lineman. Too quick on the move for most defenders, he's at his best when he's able to get downfield.
- OG Zane Beadles, RFr.
One of the team's most promising linemen, the 308-pound redshirt freshman was a top recruit and proved to be strong enough this spring to take over the starting job on the right side. He'll be pushed hard all year by JUCO transfer Corey Seiuli.
- C Kyle Gunther, Jr.
An experienced backup guard, the 302-pound junior will get to take over for Jesse Boone in the middle after seeing most of his time on special teams.
- OG Robert Conley, Soph.
Conley might have been raw, but he was good enough to push his way in to a starting job at right guard last season. He's a strong, talented 6-1 and 310 pounds with the potential to be an all-star standout with a little more time. He's a tremendous run blocker and one of the team's best weight room performers.
- OT Jason Boone, Jr.
Back as the starter at right tackle, the 300-pound junior bulked up over the last few years and should be an all-conference performer. He's extremely quick for his size and is growing as a solid pass blocker.

Top Backups
- T Jeremy Inferrera, Jr.
The Hawaii transfer was able to practice with the team last season and now will push for time on left tackle behind Tavo Tupola and can play center if needed. He's 6-3 and 296 pounds with great athleticism.
- T Dustin Hensel, Soph.
A massing 6-7 and 331-pound transfer, Hensel is athletic for his size and should be a key reserve on the right side as a bigger option behind Jason Boone.
- G Corey Seiuli, Soph.
At 326 pounds, the mid-year transfer is one of the biggest players on the line, and that's after getting in better shape. He served a church mission for two years and then went the JUCO route before getting to Utah, and now he'll be a top backup behind Zane Beadles on the left side.

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