Know Your Foe: Utah

The season may be just three weeks old, but Utah has already endured more than its fair share of turmoil. Nonetheless, what challenges do they still pose for Arizona State? Devils Digest invited Publisher Brian Swinney to answer those questions and others by Sparky's Huddle members on the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Even though the season is young it seems as if Utah has been through a lot of adversity already. But now with a big win over BYU do you feel that the team may truly be over the hump or do you feel that the lofty pre-season expectations have been tempered lately?

Swinney: The preseason expectations have absolutely been tempered. I think we all expected to see Jordan Wynn, circa the first half of the 2010 season. Instead, we got the same Wynn we had last season, and now he's done. Utah is not over the hump with the Win over BYU. The Cougars are a good team, but Utah is going to have 6 or 7 opponents this year that are better than they are. This team still has a lot to work on, but they've got the right staff in place to get them to as many as 9 wins, although 7 or 8 is more realistic.

Some may have expected a rough first year in the Pac-12 South for the Utes but their overall record was second only to USC's. On the other hand they were just 4-5 in league play and squandered a golden opportunity to play in the Pac-12 title game. How do you feel about Utah's first season in the conference and do you feel that they are better equipped this year to compete?

Swinney: Overall, the season was a little bit of a disappointment. Utah wasn't very competitive in 3 games (ASU, Washington, Cal), and blew a golden opportunity before losing to Colorado. They won the games they should have won at that time of the season, and lost the games they shouldn't have won outside of Colorado, but the blowouts and second half letdowns were disappointing.

Did the Utes see a recruiting bump from the conference switch? Who are some of the notable newcomers in 2012 and 2013 class commits?

Swinney: Absolutely. Utah has never recruited like this before. Jeremiah Poutasi and Travis Wilson were the big stars of the 2012 class, and both are seeing significant action. Utah is also building a lot of solid depth instead of plugging holes with 2 star guys. The 2013 class is headlined by Uaea Masina, Sam Tevi, and Xavier Shepard. Utah has landed more recruits early this year than in years past. They usually close stronger than most schools, and will pick up most of their 4 stars in December and January. Still not at that five star level yet though.

Jon Hays started several games at quarterback in 2011. Do you think that his experience softens the blow of losing Jordan Wynn? How will the offense change with Hays as the signal caller?

Swinney: Definitely. That's a big reason why he got the start over Travis Wilson against BYU. The offense really won't change much. Hays doesn't throw much of a deep ball, but Wynn wasn't throwing one either. I think the offense will be better with Hays in there than they would have been with Wynn. Not what I thought coming out of camp, but after watching a game and a half of Jordan, Hays is the better QB.

What is the latest on Jon White's status? If he can't go, and with how the running game has struggled versus BYU, do you feel that Utah will be tempted to go to the air more often?

Swinney: White will likely play. We assumed he would last week too and were very surprised when he didn't. The running game is better than it showed. Kelvin York and Jarrell Oliver danced too much and didn't hit the holes quickly enough. The holes by the offensive line needed to be bigger, but they were big enough to do better than they did. Both looked like the big stage got to them. I expect the offense to be very similar going forward to how it was against BYU. I expect the tight ends to be more active.

How has Brian Johnson adjusted from being the QB's Coach to being the youngest offensive coordinator among all FBS schools at 25 years old?

Swinney: It hasn't been easy. The offensive play calling has been a bit suspect, and he's obviously had some growing pains, but no one works harder than Johnson. He'll improve quickly because of how hard he works, the amount of time he puts in, and because of how smart he is. He's a great long term fit for Utah as the offensive coordinator.

We all know about defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, but what else can you tell us about the Utes' defense and some of its other standouts?

Swinney: The Kruger brothers are huge. Both big, tall guys that play with a lot of emotion. DE Nate Fakahafua might be the best athlete on the defense, but hasn't had the breakout most were expecting so far. The linebackers are about 8 deep, but L.T. Filiaga and Trevor Reilly, who also plays end, are guys to watch out for. Safety Brian Blechen also makes his return after a three game suspension.

Name one player on each side of the ball that may be under the radar but could make an impact on Saturday?

Swinney: Defensively- LT Filiaga. Filiaga is healthy and has been a monster the last two weeks.

Swinney: Offensively- Jake Murphy. He's been quiet the last two weeks after a breakout opener and I expect him to get more into the flow of the offensive game plan.

Do you think the Utes view the game against ASU as a revenge game?

Swinney: Not at all. The Sun Devils are just another team to Utah. There's BYU, there's whoever the top team in the conference is that's on their schedule (this year it's USC), and then there is everyone else.

Fill in the blanks: If ASU does _________ they will win the game. If Utah does _______ they will win the game.

Swinney: If ASU does run the ball and force multiple turnovers they will win the game. If Utah does force at least two turnovers and get off to a strong start they will win the game.

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