Salt Lake City – The wait is finally over. After a long off-season, the Utes will be back on the field Thursday night when they open up the 2017 regular season against North Dakota.
Players to Watch For:
Utah– Kylie Fitts, Tyler Huntley and Zach Moss
Red-shirt senior Kylie Fitts is a defensive-end returning after his 2016 season ended due to a foot injury. In his 2015 campaign he played in all 13 games with 11 starts. He led the Pac-12 in forced fumbles per game and led the team in sacks.
Sophomore Tyler Huntley will make his first start at QB after beating out senior and team captain Troy Williams. Huntley played in four games in 2016 as a true freshman. He went 5-7 for 60 yards, and rushed for 15 yards and a touchdown. With a new offense in place, offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said his ability to run and throw are what he believes gives Utah the best shot at winning.
Sophomore Zach Moss comes into the 2017 year as the number one back. He played in 10 games last year as a true freshman and started three. He was Utah’s second leading rusher with 84 carries for 382 yards and two touchdowns. His ability to run and catch the ball are what head coach Kyle Whittingham said gave him the starting role. Whittingham says he is “without a doubt” the number one back.
North Dakota – Keaton Studsrud and John Santiago
Senior QB Keaton Studsrud has a 26:5 touchdown to interception ratio over the past two seasons. He started 11 games last year for the Fighting Hawks and threw for 2027 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Junior RB John Santiago leads all FCS juniors with 2,442 career rushing yards, and 3,759 all-purpose yards. He is the sixth player in Big Sky Conference history to earn back-to-back first-team accolades as a freshman and sophomore. He rushed for 983 yards and 7 TDs in his 2016 season, while tallying up 1600 All-Purpose yards.
This will be the first meeting between the Utes and the Fighting Hawks. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah is 21-1 in non-conference games. Utah also has a 38-0 overall record against current members of the Big Sky. The Utes have won their last nine season openers, and last 12 that have been played at home.
A lot happened during the the off-season for the Utes; but the biggest change to the Ute personnel was the addition of offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. In 2016 Taylor was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Eastern Washington University. He led the Eagles to an FCS-best 401 passing yards per game, finished No. 2 in the country in total offense with 529.6 ypg, and No. 3 in scoring with 42.4 ppg. His fast-paced offense will be a new highly-anticipated look for Utah.
At the first press conference of the year on Monday afternoon, head coach Kyle Whittingham, addressed what he expects to see and accomplish with the new offense during the first game of the year.
“Efficiency is number one,” said Whittingham. “Making sure the offense is running as its designed to run. Taking care of the football. We’ve got to throw much better than we did last year, we have to get those chunk plays more often. The overall mechanics of the offense needs to be smooth; thats what we’re looking for.”
Questions from fans across the state will finally be answered as we head into week one. New OC, new QB, new system. No one really knows what to expect, but everyone is anticipating the answers.
Kick-off is scheduled for 5:30 MDT at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. You can also listen live on ESPN 700 radio.