2007 RECORD: 9-4; MOUNTAIN WEST: 5-3
Won Poinsettia Bowl vs. Navy 35-32
LOCATION: Salt Lake City, Utah
STADIUM: Rice-Eccles Stadium (45,017)
HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham
OVERALL: 24-14 (3 seasons)
AT UTAH: 24-14 (3 seasons)
Under Coach Whittingham the Utes have steadily improved after starting out 7-5 in the year one AM (After Meyer, Urban). Utah won nine games last year and are on course to reach double digits in victories in 2008. They enter the season unranked and below the radar with in-state rival and Mountain West favorite BYU garnering the non-BCS accolades. I don’t believe Coach Whittingham or his Utes mind at all.
WHEN THE UTES HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Andy Ludwig (4th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 8
KEY LOSSES: Derrick Richards, Brian Hernandez
When healthy, QB Brian Johnson is among the most dangerous dual threat quarterbacks in the nation and, according to reports, the senior is looking pretty good. He suffered a serious knee injury (torn ACL) and a shoulder injury to boot, but looked his best in the bowl game last year and could be close to 100 percent for his senior season. On the ground, after starter Matt Asiata went down for the season in the opener, Darrell Mack, who was scheduled to redshirt, stepped right in and rumbled for 1,200 yards. Both backs return in what should a productive backfield. The Utes return four of five starters along the line and most of their depth, which bodes well for their balanced attack.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) OT Zane Beadles (JR), 2) QB Brian Johnson (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gary Anderson (5th Season/11th at Utah)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: Steve Tate, Joe Jiannoni, Martail Burnett, Gabe Long
The Utes know how to stop the pass—opponents managed a meager 50.5 completion rate against them, while Utah picked off 17 passes and allowing just nine scores through the air. They only have to replace one defensive back, SS Steve Tate, and his replacement isn’t too shabby—Joe Dale was the Defensive MVP in the Poinsettia Bowl with 12 tackles and an interception in the game’s final minute. They can also get after the quarterback, as sophomore Paul Kruger (Freshman All-American) and junior Koa Misi (played tackle last year) are ready for bust-out seasons from defensive end. Linebacker could be their one Achilles heel, as they must replace two starters from 2007. However, expect junior Stevenson Sylvester to build on a solid sophomore season.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) FS Robert Johnson (JR), 2) CB Brice McCain (SR)
The opportunity is there for the Utes to make a big statement with an opening win in the Big House. One thing working in Utah’s favor is that Michigan is breaking in a new system and nine new starters offensively, including a first time starter at quarterback. The negative? This is the house where the legend of Appalachian St. was built…meaning the Wolverines will be ready. They face another BCS test when the Beavers of Oregon St. come to Salt Lake at mid-season. The conference schedule is set up perfectly for the Utes to make a run at a Mountain West title, as both TCU and BYU (in the season finale) visit Rice-Eccles.
Brian Johnson: In the nine games that the Texas native started and finished at quarterback last season, the Utes won eight. Johnson finished fourth in the nation in total offense as a true sophomore in 2005 and was being touted as the spread offense prototype with his pass/run abilities (this was pre-Tim Tebow). A knee injury not only cost him the final two games of the 2005 season, but all of 2006. Which quarterback will we see in 2008? When we get that answer, we’ll know if the Utes can repeat the magic of 2004 when they went undefeated and won the Fiesta Bowl.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
Johnson’s strong finish to the 2007 season—20-of-25 for 226 yards and season-highs with 11 carries for 69 yards rushing in the Poinsettia Bowl—and the fact that he’s another year removed from his knee injury, are cause for optimism; he may have his best season yet as a Ute. Everything else is in place: the line, the skill players and a solid defense. Even the schedule—three of their four toughest games are at home—is set up for a 10 or 11 win season. After taking a back seat to BYU the last couple of seasons, look for Utah to take back the state and a Mountain West crown.
Photo Credit: University of Utah
Saturday, August 9, 2008
2007 RECORD: 9-4; MOUNTAIN WEST: 5-3