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
There’s work to do on defense, but the team’s fate will depend on the
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
Best Defensive Player:
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
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
... 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.
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
- Penalties: Utah 81 for 744 yards – Opponents 61 for 460 yards
- Fourth down conversions: Opponents 8 of 11 (73%) – Utah 8 of 19 (42%)