Know Your Foe: Utah Utes

The No. 4 Oregon Ducks (8-1, 5-1) travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium with kick off scheduled for 7:06 p.m.(Pacific). Brian Swinney of UteSportsReport.com responded to five questions about the Utes. Utah is currently 6-2 for the season and 3-2 in conference play. The game will be carried live on ESPN.

Question: We know about Devontae Booker’s 123.8 ypg rushing average ranking him second in the conference in rushing. However the Utes are averaging just under 200 ypg (198.1) rushing. It appears the two quarterbacks Kendal Thompson and Travis Wilson are the two of the top four rushers at 27.3 and 18.6 ypg average. Bubba Poole is the third leading rusher at 22.9 ypg. Can you talk a little bit about the Utah running game and should we expect to see anything more than just Booker carrying the ball?

It's the Booker show and not much else, at least based on what we've seen since the beginning of Pac 12 play. The only way he doesn't get his 30+ carries on Saturday against the Ducks is if they Utes go down big and HAVE TO throw. Even then, they may still try to run it. Thompson is an elite runner as a QB. He's faster and shiftier than Mariota, but isn't as smart of a runner, and can't throw worth a lick so the threat of a pass ends up limiting his effectiveness on the ground. Doubt that he'll start, but I expect him to see some reps. Wilson likely gets the start and can do some damage on the ground. He's a big, strong, physical runner, but takes his time to get up to full speed (opposite of Mariota). Once he's on the move though, Wilson will run past and through guys. Poole was the starter to open the season and the first few games, but has been completely phased out. Unless Booker suffers and injury, he probably won't get more than a few carries, if any.

Speaking of your quarterbacks, Kendal Thompson appeared to be the man and was for six games but lately Travis Wilson has been back at the helm of the Utah offense. Will Thompson be on the field against Oregon this weekend or will it strictly be a Travis Wilson show (and if so why is that?)

It's been a back and forth merry-go-round disaster at the quarterback spot. If Utah had anything close to average QB play, they'd probably be undefeated. They haven't and it cost them in their losses to Wazzu and ASU. Wilson is the better thrower and Thompson is the better runner, but so far this year, neither has been effective in the passing game. Wilson likely gets the start (his third straight), but if Utah's offensive coaches are smart, they'll sprinkle in Thompson at times like Cal does with their QB situation.

Utah is always thought of as being a hard nosed, physical team that can not be taken for granted, even when they may not have fielded their best teams. This year, this team looks ready to get back into the national spotlight particularly with that tough defense. Nate Orchard is averaging over a sac a game while Hunter Dimick is right at a sack a game. What makes the defense so good?

Most thought that the defense would take a step back this season with the number of preseason injuries they had, including losing their top corner in Reggie Porter. Instead, they've looked like arguably the top defense in the conference. First, credit DC Kalani Sitake. He's a defensive mastermind and will be a head coach somewhere next season. No one makes in-game adjustments better than this guy. That's where it starts. The return (from injury) of LB Gionni Paul completely changed the mindset of the defense. They are tough and play sound football. Mistakes are minimal and the coaches continue to do a great job of getting the most our of their guys. Orchard and Dimick are tremendous ends and linebacker Jared Norris is a tackling machine. These guys really play together.

Last week one of the best field goal kickers in the country had two bad kicks on the same play in overtime that would have won the game. Has Andy Phillips recovered from that experience or will he be carrying that miss around with him for a while?

Phillips will be fine. He'll probably knock in his next 15 kicks just to make up for it. The guy is accurate (17 of 20 on the season) and can bomb it. He can legitimately make it from 60 yards. The guy is an animal. He just over corrected on his (second) missed kick in OT last week. No worries there.

Kyle Whittingham might very well be the best coach in the conference. He’s had a perfect season (13-0 in 2008 with a No. 2 ranking in the final polls after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl) and after a couple years in the Pac-12, his team could get into the conference championship game. However last week’s loss to ASU set that course back some, but how pumped up is Whittingham in finishing a strong November?

Kyle Whittingham is a solid coach and a brilliant Xs and Os guy that is deserving of the praise he's received this season, but he's also largely responsible for the disaster at QB and his forced conservatism led to the losses against Wazzu and Arizona State. He may need to finish strong to keep his job. A 1-3 finish for a 7-5 year might not be enough. Ute fans could turn on him after a 6-1 start and so much promise. I don't think that happens, but with Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona coming up, it's possible.


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