Know Your Foe: Utah

SEP. 30 -- Brian Swinney, the publisher of the Utah site, joins us to break down the Utes...

BRO: Have any coaching additions or scheme changes helped lead to the success Utah has had this year?

Brian Swinney: They're trying to increase the tempo, but once they get a lead, they slow it down instead of putting their foot on the gas so it hasn't really been noticeable this season. One of the biggest complaints about Kyle Whittingham is that he plays not to lose when he takes a lead. He becomes very conservative. The play calling has been pretty comparable to last year. More of the zone-read, but not by much. In terms of coaching, they're worse than they were last season. I said it after the new hires, I said it in spring and fall, and I'll say it again now: Utah's coaching staff took a step back at the OC spot, and WR coach. Utah upgraded the OL coach, but the results aren't there yet. Special teams have been better with Whittingham taking over that role.

BRO: Was the WSU game just an off night for the offense or are there bigger problems?

Swinney: It's a bit of both.

Utah had an off-night. They're better offensively than they showed against Wazzu. Travis Wilson had arguably his worst game as a Ute, the receivers were dropping passes, and the pass protection was poor. Now, the pass protection has been poor all season, but we expected that. They're a solid run blocking line, but a line of Huffman, Biggins, Woods, Tracy, and I could pass block as well as these guys. Why they don't run it consistently and exclusively with Devontae Booker is beyond me. He's tremendous and is a better back than anyone the Bruins run out there. Wilson made big strides in fall and the early games, looking like a different QB with more poise and understanding, but he looked as bad as he ever has on Saturday. He was inaccurate, couldn't read the D, and was bottled up in the run game. I don't expect Wilson to be as bad against UCLA as he was against Wazzu, but he's far from a good quarterback. This team will go offensively as Wilson goes and the line allows him to go. He can be rattled and get into his own head. When things start going south, they don't stop. When he's not confident in his ability to run, he can't throw it either. Utah can score points, but they have to execute at a fairly high level. They're not talented enough across the board offensively to be able to make up for the number of miscues they had Saturday, and it will only get worse once they hit the hard part of their schedule.

BRO: Where does Utah win the match-ups vs UCLA?

Swinney: Utah has better special teams play. They have the best returner in the country in Kaelin Clay who already has 4 kick returns for TDs this year (3 on punts). Andy Phillips is arguably the best kicker in the country. Huge leg and very accurate. Only misses were from deep in VERY windy conditions Tom Hackett is the best punter in the country. He has a lob wedge for a right foot. The Utes also cover kicks very well. Utah's special teams are ridiculously good. Utah has the best back in this machup in Devontae Booker. Has to be gang-tackled. The Utes generate a better pass rush than UCLA does. They're much more creative in how they get pressure. Kalani Sitake is one of the best DCs in the country when he's allowed to do his thing. Wide receivers are fairly comparable. Utah also has a solid group of linebackers, but they're very thin.

BRO: Where does UCLA win the match-ups?

Swinney: UCLA has every other advantage. Better QB, better offensive line, better secondary, better overall front 7. Better coaching.

BRO: What's Utah's biggest strength?

Swinney: Utah's biggest strength (other than special teams) is how physical they are with their front 7. They do a great job of getting pressure on the QB (when they rush more than 3), especially Nate Orchard. The linebackers play very sound football. Gionni Paul and Jared Norris are very good linebackers, especially Paul. He'd start at UCLA next to Kendricks. The offense can move the ball when they run it with Booker. Why another back gets carries is beyond me. Their receivers are good. When Wilson is on, they'll make some big plays.

BRO: What's their biggest weakness?

Swinney: Weakness is depth at a ton of spots. Can't afford to lose Booker at RB, or any of their OL, They really only go 6 deep on the line. Linebackers have exactly ZERO depth. Another injury and they'll be moving guys around to make up for it. No safety depth whatsoever, as a true freshman in Marcus Williams, who isn't very good, started back there this week. He has been responsible for 4 touchdowns given up in the last 3 games. The defensive tackles are a liability, especially against the run. The corners are below average for a Pac-12 unit. Run 4 and 5 receiver sets and they'll give up yards. Utah doesn't have more than 3 corners they trust, and maybe that's a stretch.

BRO: Is there any thought to replacing Travis Wilson with Kendal Thompson?

Kaelin Clay.
Swinney: Replacing? No. Giving Thompson more reps? Yes. That's a mistake though. Utah may not win another game if Thompson is the QB. Wilson is that much better.

BRO: Is Utah more or less physical than last year?

Swinney: About the same. Not as physical on the interior of the defensive line where they start two guys that are below average Pac 12 DTs. The receivers are physical. They block well.

BRO: What is thought of Wilson's performance to date?

Swinney: He was pretty good through three games. Completion percentage is down because he's thrown away a ton of balls this year instead of taking sacks like last year (or throwing picks). He wasn't great against Michigan, but actually managed the team well. He didn't make mistakes. Wazzu was a disaster. Everything went wrong. The knock on Travis has often been that he's inconsistent.

BRO: Why hasn't Utah developed into a real contender yet in the conference, despite some good coaching that seems to have been in place? Or is it the coaching?

Swinney: There are couple of things that work against Utah:

1) The transition from the Mountain West has been harder than most expected and that's due to depth. Utah has some top end talent, but they lack playable depth. The difference between 1s and 2s is often huge, so a single injury can be devastating, whereas most Pac-12 teams are able to replace an injured player with minimal drop-off.

2) The top-end talent isn't there across the board. There are some very good Pac 12 level players like WR Dres Anderson, LT Jeremiah Poutasi, RB Devontae Booker, DE Nate Orchard, and LB Gionni Paul. But there are also huge holes in the starting lineup. Clint Shepard is a former walk-on that was awarded a scholarship in the fall and is now a starter (because he's the best DT right now and not because someone else was injured). He's not close to a starting-level Pac-12 DT. Neither is the guy next to him in Seni Fauonuku. Utah's best cornerback is a guy that started THIS season as a wide receiver. They started a true freshman safety last week who has been pretty bad so far this season. Utah's right guard and right tackle wouldn't be in the two deep at UCLA. They're borderline Pac-12 level players and are currently starting. Good teams in this conference don't have those glaring holes at so many positions.

3) The top-end talent isn't coming at the rate they need because Utah has an uphill battle in recruiting. Good luck getting kids to come to Utah consistently. I love it here. I left Southern California to come here. This is a great place to live. Unfortunately, there are many pre-conceived notions about this state that are incorrect (I had the same ideas when I moved here), and that work against Utah. People often think that Utah is this weird, backwards state, when in fact it's the most misunderstood state. It's like anywhere else where people go to work every day and are just trying to find a way to send their kids to college. Try telling that to the mom of a recruit out of Louisiana who was raised in a Southern Baptist home. Her concern about her son coming home with 7 wives, while ridiculous, is an actual concern (my Southern Baptist grandmother from the South had the same concern until I explained it to her). People just don't get Utah, and it's due to ignorance and misinformation. This will work against the football program in recruiting FOREVER. Utah is often eliminated by top recruits before they even get a chance to make their pitch. Unfortunate, but reality.

BRO: Overall, have the Utah coaches upgraded the program's talent level from the day the school joined the PAC 12?

Swinney: Yes. The overall talent is improved, but it's still in the bottom quarter of the Pac 12.

BRO: Who is the better return guy, Kaelin Clay or Ishmael Adams?

Swinney: Both are tremendous, but Clay is probably a bit better. He's more instinctual and has better vision. Adams is more explosive.

BRO: What's your prediction for the game?

Swinney: Utah came crashing back to Earth last week with a loss to Washington State where many of the issues of the Whittingham era re-emerged. The win over Michigan looks less impressive a week later and I think we have a better idea as to what this Utah team is: average. There are too many holes and too many depth issues, combined with a lack of top-end talent to expect them to go into the Rose Bowl and knock off a top ten team in UCLA that seems to have righted many of its early season issues. A couple of Paul Perkins runs up the middle for chunks of yardage will keep a thin Utah defense on their toes all night while Hundley eats up a below average Utah secondary that could be missing its best player in Tevin Carter. Expect Hundley to use a bunch of high percentage throws mixed with a few balls over the top that show which team has the superior athletes. Thomas Duarte should be able to have a big day with how much the Utes leave the middle of the field open. The Bruins should be able to pressure Travis Wilson and his porous offensive line that can't pass-block anyone, but Utah should still be able to move the ball and put up some points behind Devontae Booker and a trio of talented receivers in Dres Anderson, Kaelin Clay, and Kenneth Scott. Inconsistencies on 3rd down and too many stalled drives will do them in, though, as UCLA's defense asserts itself with a couple of big plays and forced turnovers. It won't be as close as the final score would indicate.

Utah 27

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