Are the Utes better this year than they were last year? We all expect them to be, right?
The team, and certainly some of its individual players, have lofty expectations this year, but how do you improve on a good season when everybody else in the conference is also getting better?
One of the primary questions heading into this season, is whether or not Kyle Whittinham’s team, (and staff) is keeping pace with the rising tide of Pac-12 football. And while a team is certainly more than just the sum of its parts, it’s useful to take a look at the parts in comparison to last year’s team. Let’s break it down by position.
QB: The position is certainly deeper this year, but questions remain about whether or not Travis can emerge as the consistent playmaker this team needs in order to take the next step. If he can’t, the depth chart behind him bears some promise. Kendall Thompson and Chase Hansen are going to contribute somehow this year, I’m sure of it.
The QB position is stronger this year. So it’s a + compared to last season
RB might seem like a no-brainer, with Devonte returning to make his case as the best in both conference and country, but the loss of McCormick is not a small thing. Expect Bubba Poole to be used for change-of-pace, and for Tauni Lehauli to get a bulk of reps in camp and cleanup situations in order to preserve Booker’s health. Booker might be the best player on this team at any position, and the season’s success likely hinges on him more than any other player. He’ll be another year improved, but also on the radar for every opposing DC. Still, RB gets a + rating over 2014
The O-Line lost Poutasi to the NFL, but more than any other unit, this group is about cohesion. Four returning starters and a spirited battle for the remaining open spot have me thinking that the Utes O-Line is a key strength for this year’s squad. Big time +.
Tight Ends are a huge question mark, not only because of unknown talent, but because of uncertainty over how much of a part of the offensive game plan they’ll be. Still, whoever steps in will have a hard time being as much of a talent and leader as Westley Tonga. Tight Ends get the first offensive –
Wide Receiver is not as big of a question to me as it might be for some. Losing Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson is tough, but Dres didn’t play a whole season last year either. The return of a healthy Tim Patrick gives the Utes a weapon they just didn’t have last year, the tall receiver who can go up and get it on 3rd down or Red Zone in isolation. Kenneth Scott has no reason not to be excellent this season. All Utah needs is for one or two young bucks to step up and be contributors. Still… A lot of uncertainty here. WR’s get a –
What does any of that mean? Assuming that you even agree with my simple evaluations, it means that Utah’s offense runs the risk of being rather one-dimensional. This is always a concern for teams that boast powerful offensive lines, great RB’s, and defensive identities. One would be remiss in comparing this year’s team to last without accounting for perhaps the most significant offensive change. Co-Coordinators Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding will undertake a huge task in ensuring that Utah puts a balanced attack on the field every week. But they replace a man who never really seemed to have is finger on the pulse of Utah football. Roderick has been a program staple for a decade despite almost leaving on multiple occasions, which doesn’t happen unless your boss REALLY values your work/talents. Harding is already a player favorite, and somehow finds a way to be likable, which is nearly impossible for offensive line coaches. Mostly because they are all at least 2/3 crazy. The offensive coaching staff is a definite +. Quite frankly, they have to be. Whitt’s reputation is flawless except for the fact that he struggles to find OC consistency. The offense, overall, should be better than they were last year. That might not translate to anymore wins, but I don’t see any major liabilities here, given a little luck in the health department.