#59 Utah Football 2014 Preview

Utah Utes

Overall Rank: #59
#9 Pac-12

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Kyle Whittingham has had a lot of success during his tenure at Utah, but things have not gone so well in the last two seasons, posting back-to-back 5-7 seasons. The offense was part of the problem, as it ranked toward the bottom of the Pac-12 in nearly every offensive category. That prompted Whittingham to make some changes, as he brought in three new coaches on the offensive end and reassigned another. Already the winningest coach in school history, Whittingham is hoping that those changes can get him back to his winning ways.

2013 Record: 5-7, 2-6
2013 Bowl: None
Coach: Kyle Whittingham (71-36 at Utah, 71-36 Overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Dave Christensen
Defensive Coordinator: Kilani Sitaki

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Bubba Poole, RB, 607 yards
Passing: Travis Wilson, QB, 1,827 yards
Receiving: Dres Anderson, WR, 1,002 yards
Tackles: Jason Whittingham, LB, 81
Sacks: Jacoby Hale, LB, 6.5
Interceptions: None Returning From 2013

Other Key Returnees: LT Jeremiah Poutasi, LG Junior Salt, WR Kenneth Scott, DE Nate Orchard, LB Jared Norris, CB Eric Rowe, SS Brian Blechen, K Andy Phillips, P Tom Hackett

Key Losses: G Jeremiah Tofaeono, C Vyncent Jones, WR Sean Fitzgerald, TE Jake Murphy, DE Trevor Reilly, DT Tenny Palepoi, DT LT Tuipulotu, CG Keith McGill, S Michael Walker

Dave Christensen comes over from Wyoming to serve as the offensive coordinator this year, and he will have plenty of weapons to work with as Utah returns the majority of their offense from last season. The good news for Christensen is that QB Travis Wilson has been cleared to play this season after health concerns resulting from a concussion had his career in doubt. He will be joined in the backfield by last year’s rushing leader, Bubba Poole, and the top returning receiver in the Pac-12, Dres Anderson. Anderson caught 53 passes for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns last year and he will be counted on heavily in this year’s passing attack. Utah gets a boost in the receiver corps, as Kenneth Scott returns from injury. Scott was the second leading receiver in 2012, but missed all of last season after getting hurt in the season opener. Giving Wilson and Poole chances to make plays out of the backfield will be an experienced offensive line. Utah has four starters back from last year’s offensive line, led by the Jeremiah Poutasi and Junior Salt. They will fill the left tackle and left guard spots, respectively. Siaosi Aiono and Isaac Asiata are also back after splitting time at right tackle. Aiono will move to the center spot this season, leaving the right tackle spot to Asiata. Utah’s kicking game is in good hands as well with First-Team All-Pac-12 punter Tom Hackett and Pac-12 Honorable Mention kicker Andy Phillips coming back.

The defense returns some very talented players, but there are some big holes to fill. Six starters from 2013 are gone and returning linebacker Jacoby Hale’s status is in doubt after a spring knee injury. The secondary and defensive line are the major concerns, as three starters depart from each. Safety Eric Rowe is back in the secondary for his fourth season as a starter, but Utah is looking to shift him to corner. Key in that plan are safety Brian Blechen, a four year starter who missed last season with an injury, and junior college transfer Tevin Carter stepping into the safety roles. Defensive line is more of a concern, as Nate Orchard, 50 tackles and nine tackles for a loss last year, is the lone returning starter. Utah will look for Utah State transfer Jason Fanaika and a trio of returning tackles, Viliseni Fauonuku, Sese Ianu and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, to step up and replace the lost production. The linebackers should be the strength of this year’s defense, as Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris are back after making 81 and 64 tackles respectively last year. Hale will be a big loss, but Utah is hoping Gionni Paul, a Miami transfer, will be able to contribute after redshirting last year.

The Bottom Line:
What will likely be the difference maker for Utah this season is the quarterback position. Travis Wilson has been cleared to play, but that doesn’t guarantee he will be the starter. Adam Schulz is back after starting for Wilson at the end of the year and Kendall Thompson, an Oklahoma transfer, is eligible. Schulz is likely a long shot, but Thompson could pose a real threat to take Wilson’s job. No matter who ends up being the starter, they will need to play well for Utah to have success. Utah has players ready to step up in the positions where player have departed, and if the quarterback play can improve, Utah could improve on their 5-7 record from last year.

Projected Bowl: Cactus Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 160.3 (71, 8)
Passing Offense: 236.3 (60, 9)
Total Offense: 396.6 (76,11)
Scoring Offense: 29.2 (66, 10)
Rushing Defense: 130.3 (20, 3)
Pass Defense: 267.3 (109, 10)
Total Defense: 397.7 (60, 7)
Scoring Defense: 33.3 (98, 14)
Turnover Margin: -0.8 (112, 11)
Sacks: 3.25 (2, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 1.92 (55, 5)

Madness 2014 Recruit Rankings:
#108 Jackson Barton


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