Know your foe: Utah Utes

Dan Sorensen of the Scout affiliate for the Utah Utes,, provides his insight on the Spartans' upcoming opposition.

Question, Utah had impressive nine- and 10-win seasons in 2014 and 2015 respectively. How does this year's team compare in talent with the Utah teams of the past two seasons? Who are the stars to watch on this year's team?

Answer, Sorensen: On paper, this is the deepest and most talented team we've seen in the Kyle Whittingham era. The defense is one of the best in the country, led by arguably the best defensive line in the Pac-12. Defensive end Hunter Dimick and defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei lead the unit. Linebacker Sunia Tauteoli was just named the Nagurski national defensive player of the week for his two interception performance against BYU last week. Safety Marcus Williams was first team All Pac-12 last season as a sophomore and is playing at a high level. The offense has struggled so far this season under new quarterback Troy Williams, but they have shown flashes that make us feel like they're due for a breakout game.

Q: With Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker now gone, what does the Utah offense look like so far schematically? Which players have stepped up as replacements?

A: Schematically, the offense is pretty similar to past years. They're throwing the ball a bit more than they have in the past, but that's not surprising given new quarterback Troy Williams' skill set. He's a more refined passer than Wilson was. Replacing Booker has been difficult for the Utes, and they've been using a running back by committee approach. Senior Joe Williams was the starter at the beginning of the year, but he medically retired this week. He's replaced by true freshman Zach Moss, who was outstanding against BYU, and Troy McCormick, a small yet speedy change of pace back. Moss will get his first start of his career, and the coaches expect big things out of the power back.

Q: It appears that Utah's defense has been strong in two games so far by giving up only 19 total points and an average of 243 total yards of offense. Are there any concerns about the defense? Given that SJSU runs a multiple offense, would they be better off spreading the field or playing a smash-mouth style against this defense?

A: This is a defense that has very few weaknesses. The defensive line is one of the best in the country, even with senior DE Kylie Fitts out with a season-ending injury. They will rotate eight players on and off the field to keep the line fresh. They've been stout against the run and give Utah the ability to create a pass rush without excessive blitzing. The secondary is also outstanding, with one of the better safety tandems in the Pac-12 in Marcus Williams and Chase Hansen. The corners are led by seniors Justin Thomas, Brian Allen and Reginald Porter, all three of whom have played extremely well this season. The weakest link in the defense is the linebackers, led by junior Sunia Tauteoli and sophomore Cody Barton. However, both Barton and Tauteoli had terrific games against BYU and they are expected to improve as the season progresses.  

Q: In Nov. 2015 San Jose State fell to BYU after failing a potential game-winning two point conversion. BYU lost in a similar fashion at Utah last weekend. Is it a stretch for the Spartans to use that as a case for an upset bid or are the Utes expecting a blowout win?

I have a couple of thoughts on this. First off, BYU lost on a failed two point conversion, but keep in mind that the Utes committed six turnovers against the Cougars. It's extremely rare to see a team with a -3 turnover margin on a game win, but that's what the Utes did. Utah was clearly more talented than the Cougars, and their sloppy play kept the game from being a comfortable win. San Jose State's defense has struggled this year, and it would be surprising to see Utah's turnover woes continue at such a clip. Some are calling this a trap game for the Utes and are expecting a bit of a hangover after an emotional win in a rivalry game or thinking the Utes might be looking ahead to USC. However, coaches and players alike have been disappointed in Utah's slow start. Both of Utahs' first two games have been closer than they should have been. As a result, they'll be gunning to show what they're truly capable of against the Spartans. A San Jose State win would be one of the bigger upsets in college football this season.

Q: What is your prediction for the game, including the score?

I expect Utah to win and win big. The offense has been able to move the ball in both games, but have struggled to finish drives. There's been an emphasis on that in practice, and we expect to see a large improvement in that regard - especially against a defense that has given up 80 points in its first two games. The Utah defense is as good as advertised, and are expected to make a long day for the San Jose State defense. My prediction is that Utah wins 45-17.

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