2007 Utah Preview

Posted Apr 8, 2007

Utah might not be the Utah of 2004, but it'll be good enough, thanks to the return of star quarterback Brian Johnson after a year off, to be among the best in the Mountain West and a pain for Oregon State, UCLA and Louisville in three big non-conference games.

Utah Utes

Preview 2007

By Pete Fiutak

- 2007 Utah Offense Preview | 2007 Utah Defense Preview
2007 Utah Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Utah Preview 

Will the real Utah Utes please stand up? 

No one was expecting the team to be 12-0 over the last two years, like it was in Urban Meyer’s final season in 2004, but Kyle Whittingham was supposed to keep some of the momentum going and keep the program the best in the Mountain West. Certainly the Utes weren’t bad in conference play, but TCU won in 2005 and BYU won in 2006. As the third superpower team in the league, it should be Utah’s turn.

Head coach: Kyle Whittingham
3rd year: 15-10
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 20  ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Ute Players
QB Brian Johnson, Jr.
2. P/K Louie Sakoda, Jr.
3. LB Joe Jianonni, Sr.
4. OT Jason Boone, Sr.
5. FS Steve Tate, Sr.
6. OG Robert Conley, Jr.
7. DE Martain Burnett, Sr.
8. CB Brice McCain, Jr.
9. C Kyle Gunther, Sr.
10. WR Brent Casteel, Jr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

Aug. 30

at Oregon State

Sept. 8

Air Force

Sept. 15


Sept. 22


Sept. 29

Utah State

Oct. 5

at Louisville

Oct. 13

San Diego State

Oct. 18

at TCU

Oct. 27

at Colorado State

Nov. 10


Nov. 17

New Mexico

Nov. 24

at BYU

2006 Schedule
2005 Record:

9/2 at UCLA L 31-10
9/9 No. Arizona W 45-7
9/16 at Utah State W 48-0
9/23 at San Diego St W 38-7
9/30 Boise State L 36-3
10/5 TCU W 20-7
10/14 at Wyoming L 31-15
10/19 at New Mexico L 34-31
10/28 UNLV W 45-23
11/11 Colorado State W 35-22
11/18 at Air Force W 17-14
11/25 BYU L 33-31
12/23 Armed Forces Bowl
Tulsa W 25-13

To win the title, the Utes have to be consistent in every phase game in and game out. They didn’t get any pass defense in the loss to New Mexico. They didn’t get any offensive production in the loss to Wyoming. They didn’t even show up against UCLA and Boise State, and even though they struggled down the stretch, they came within a miraculous play by BYU’s John Beck in the regular season finale of closing out the year with a five game winning streak to go along with a fourth bowl win in four years.

There’s work to do on defense, but the team’s fate will depend on the offensive consistency.
With star quarterback Brian Johnson back after taking all last season off to recover from a knee injury, the offense has the potential to blow up and be the best in the Mountain West. Four starters are back on the line, all the starting receivers return, and the backfield should be decent if
JUCO transfer Matt Asiata gives Darryl Poston a push on the depth chart.

With BYU appearing to be back to stay and TCU looking like a BCS-caliber juggernaut, it’s not like the Utes are going to walk through the Mountain West. However, they’re certainly going to be in the hunt from start to finish.

What to watch for on offense: The Utah spread should be back to being the Utah spread again. Brian Johnson is a near-perfect prospect for this type of offense and is back to lead the offense to be the best in the Mountain West for the third time in four years. It’s a mixed attack that’ll spread it out with four-wide sets as often as it will try to run the ball. The defenses will be guessing all season long if Johnson is back to his pre-injury self.

What to watch for on defense: An attempt to generate more pressure. The Ute secondary, even with All-America caliber corner Eric Weddle, was lousy against anyone who could remotely throw. After allowing 200 yards or more and 14 touchdown passes over the final eight games of the regular season, and with three starters gone, the secondary needs a ton of help. That means the defensive front has to be far better at pressuring quarterbacks, which might be an issue early on with three starters gone off the line.

The team will be far better if … the secondary keeps making big plays to offset the bad ones. That might be hard to do without Weddle, but it’ll be necessary to stay with the better teams, especially in the Mountain West. Time and again, the Utes gave up a ton of yards only to save the day with a timely interception. They were also decent at coming up with stops, most of the time, on third downs.

The Schedule: Utah will likely be far better than the final record will indicate. Oregon State has everyone back from last year's great team, so the season-opening trip to Corvallis could start the year off on a sour note. UCLA is a top-ten caliber team coming to Salt Lake City, while the battle at Louisville will show just how well the Utes stack up against the nation's best. If that wasn't enough, the Mountain West schedule doesn't offer much help with the showdowns against TCU and BYU both on the road. Winning all the league home games (Air Force, San Diego State, Wyoming and New Mexico) is a must.

Best Offensive Player: Brian Johnson. Arguably the Mountain West’s best player in 2005, 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 late in the year. After choosing to sit out all of last season to let the knee heal, he now knows the offense better than ever and should become a national name if all goes as well as hoped. He has the potential to be very, very special.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Joe Jiannoni. Part safety, part linebacker, all hitter, Jiannoni was the main man on the defensive front seven finishing second on the team with 92 tackles and second in sacks. He can move with the speed to play on the outside, but his sideline-to-sideline range, and his instincts to get into the backfield, make him a natural in the middle.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DT Gabe Long. A top recruit for USC in 2005, Long ended up sticking with the JUCO route before ending up in Utah. At 6-3 and 300 pounds, he’s a big presence inside and a key piece of the defensive line puzzle. With the bulk of the defensive interior gone, Long has to live up to his potential.

The season will be a success if ... the Utes win eight games. While that might not seem like a great campaign for a program used to being in the Mountain West title hunt, and after winning eight games last season, but with an occasionally brutal schedule and games at TCU and BYU, a league championship will likely be out of the question much less a ten-win season. Even so, with Johnson back at the helm, this could turn into the type of dangerous team that rips through the conference home and away.

Key game: Oct. 18 at TCU. If the Utes can’t come away from Fort Worth a win, the season-ending showdown at BYU might not mean much. Even with the nasty non-conference schedule, the Mountain West slate isn’t all that bad meaning 3-0 is likely with a shot at taking the league lead by storm.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Utah 1st quarter scoring: 54 – Utah 2nd quarter scoring: 133
- Penalties: Utah 81 for 744 yards – Opponents 61 for 460 yards
- Fourth down conversions: Opponents 8 of 11 (73%) – Utah 8 of 19 (42%)


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2007 Utah Preview - Offense
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2007 Utah Preview - Defense
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2007 Utah Preview - Depth Chart
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