What a difference a year makes. At the beginning of this season, someone on our boards questioned me when I said that Utah was marginally better than last year. They were right. They aren't marginally better than last year. But they were also wrong (as was I). They're worse. The regression Utah has made as a program in one year is astounding. This team is nowhere near the Utah team that we saw last season. The 2010 Utah squad would have been somewhere between 8-4 and 10-2 in the Pac 12 this season. They were good. They were very good. This year's team looks like a 16 year old kid trying to unhook his girlfriend's bra for the first time. It's an absolute disaster that is ending in embarrassment week after week. So why are we here? I blame Andy Dalton and the 2010 TCU senior class.
Timing really seems to be everything doesn't it? Let's go back a year to the first week in November. Utah was undefeated, ranked #5 in the BCS standings and getting ready to take on #3 TCU at home. Pretty much everything was clicking for the Utes as they had dismantled 6 of their first 8 opponents with only Pitt and Air Force making a game of it. The offensive line looked like one of the best in the country. The running back spot had tons of depth. There were two very capable quarterbacks. There were big time playmakers in the receiving corps and on special teams. The defense was stout. Now imagine if Andy Dalton was a year older, and had finished up his career in 2009. The same with Jeremy Kerley, Marcus Cannon, Jake Kirkpatrick, T.J. Johnson, Cory Grant, Jason Teague, Colin Jones, and Wayne Daniels. Imagine if just 5 of those guys were a year older and finished up their careers a year earlier. What could have been?
The disparity between Utah and TCU last season was not the 40 points that the final score indicated. Everything went wrong for Utah and everything went right for TCU. TCU was probably 2 touchdowns better than Utah on a normal day. Now take away those players from TCU, namely Dalton. Better yet, just go ahead and insert TCU 2011 into the equation. 2010 Utah was better than 2011 TCU is now. I'd take the Utes from last season over the Frogs from this season by 10 points and not think twice about it. I have no doubt in my mind that last year's Utah team beats this year's TCU team.
While a win over an unranked TCU team wouldn't do a ton for Utah in terms of moving them up the rankings, they'd still be undefeated and heading in their matchup with Notre Dame in South Bend. Utah lost to Notre Dame last season because of the TCU game. If they had played an unranked TCU team, without all the hype that came with it, I have no doubts as to whether or not the Utes would have taken down the Irish. Utah was a better team last year than Notre Dame by a solid margin. They were mentally and emotionally drained from the week before from the loss to TCU, and BCS aspirations were gone. Beat TCU 2011, beat Notre Dame 2010. 10-0, ranked in the top 4 in the country, dreaming BCS.
Now, let's assume that the Utes still knocked off San Diego State and BYU, as they did last season. Utah didn't look great in either game, but they still got the wins. It was apparent though that this was a different team post TCU. Substitute TCU 2011 in, and the Utes don't lose their steam, take out SDSU and BYU in fashions more convincing than what actually happened, and you've got a 12-0 squad, MWC Champs, and probably ranked #3 in the BCS standings. HELLO ROSE BOWL!!!!!!
Now, I'm not delusional enough to think Utah would have knocked off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. That Badger squad was a team that wanted to play, played hard, executed well, and didn't make mistakes. The 2008 Utah team was better than the 2010 Utah team and the 2010 Wisconsin term was better than the 2008 Alabama team. The upset probably wasn't happening again. I'd take Wisconsin over Utah in that game 4 out of 5 times. That's not what matters though. What does matter is that Utah lost out on a chance to say to the world as they entered the Pac 12 "We're here!" We're playing in YOUR bowl game a year before we enter your conference. We can compete with anyone in the country on a national stage. We're on national television in front of millions upon millions of fans, playing in the most storied bowl game around. Hundreds of recruits are watching us. Dozens of big time recruits like what they see. Utah football is there for everyone to see.
Now everything in Ute world is peachy keen. They don't have to take a beating from Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Derrick Brown stays committed to Utah. Michael Eubank possibly makes the jump from ASU to the Utes. The depth at QB, while young, is now loaded going into the 2011 season. The options behind Wynn would be Shreve, Brown and/or Eubank. You never want to be forced to use a true freshman, but in this case, there are options. Talented options. Options that currently don't exist on the current team. Jon Hays, while a warrior out there and someone who works hard, is not a Pac 12 starting QB. He's not. That's apparent. It's hard not to like Hays and how hard he plays, but his physical limitations offset his heart and desire. If Utah had played in the Rose Bowl last year, they've likely got more options at quarterback than they do now.
What a difference a year makes. If Utah had gone 12-0 last season, and played in the Rose Bowl, you can bet your bottom dollar that Aaron Roderick would still be calling the plays. You can bet that Dave Schramm would still be the co-offensive coordinator. You can bet that Norm Chow would be enjoying retirement. Most importantly, you can bet that the spread offense would still be in place. You can bet that Utah would be putting up more points than the 22 they're averaging now, and better than the 19 a game being scored by the offense if you take away the 3 defensive touchdowns. Better than the 16.2 points per game if you also take out the scoring drives of 8 yards or less that came as a result of the defense forcing a turnover.
The changes that were made seemed like overreactions at the time with the struggles of the offense in the final third of the season last year. The Utes may have struggled the last few games with a less than 100% Jordan Wynn or without Wynn at all, but Utah was really rolling before that. The offense was putting up video game like numbers. Watching Jordan Wynn against Iowa State was like watching Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl. The Utes did whatever they wanted offensively. It was dynamic, and the playmakers were put in position to make plays. That's really it right there; The playmakers were put in position to make plays.
That isn't happening with this offense, and it's not so much the players, as it is the system. If Utah was still running a spread offense, the numbers would be better. That's not an opinion, that's a fact. The spread offense is much simpler to run than Chow's west coast set. It's easier for the quarterbacks and the offensive linemen, the two most important elements in the offense, to do their job because of the simplicity and mismatches it creates.
Even if the Utes had still lost out on Eubank, and Brown still made the decision to go to Washington, and they had to bring in Hays, the spread is the better option. It was a better option with Jordan Wynn the past two seasons, was a better option with Jordan Wynn to start this season, and is a better option with Jordan Wynn if he returns next season. The spread excels in making short, quick passes to receivers moving down the field. We saw how effective Wynn was last year when he was healthy doing just this. Now, what does Jon Hays excel at? Short, quick passes. The spread offense opens up running lanes for the QB at times. Hays has shown that he's fairly mobile. Can you think of a better offense for him to run?
The offensive line has struggled because of the complexity of the system they are running, and because they're being outmanned at the line of scrimmage. The number advantages of a defense are negated in a spread offense because of the number of players split out wide, forcing the defense to counter by splitting linebackers and safeties out wide, pulling them out of the box. Cal was stacking the box time and time again with 8 guys. If Utah was in a spread offense, five receiver set, the Bears would be forced to move a couple of those 8 guys out wide, opening things up for the Utes and taking some pressure off of the offensive line. The players on the offensive line aren't the right players for the scheme.
The spread allows teams with inferior talent to beat teams with superior talent. The spread allows for less talented players to be put in position to make them successful and make plays. Utah does not have the talent, especially on offense, to go toe to toe with the Washingtons and Arizona States of the conference on a week to week basis. They need tricks and gimmicks at this stage in the game against the level of competition they are facing now, and with the talent currently on the roster. The spread offense got the most out of that talent because of how it is built and what it is designed to do. If the coaches had stuck with the spread, the results would have been better and we'd be looking at a team that was playing better, had more than 3 wins, and a more optimistic outlook.
So as Utah football spins out of control, losses mount, the offense struggles, and frustrations build, we ask ourselves how the Utes got here. Well... Utah was blown out by TCU in a matchup of top 5 teams in early November of 2010. Utah proceeds to lose the next week at Notre Dame because of the emotional letdown of the TCU debacle. Those losses keep Utah from playing in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, in a spot that was ultimately occupied by TCU. That lost opportunity keeps Utah from making a name on a big stage and enticing a few possible recruits to come play for them. Boise State blows out Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah changes offensive coordinators by demoting Aaron Roderick and Dave Schramm, and bringing in Norm Chow, who implements his west coast offense, while getting getting rid of the spread. Utah loses QB commit Derrick Brown who changes his mind and goes to Washington. Michael Eubank picks ASU over Utah on signing day. Griff Robles and Tyler Shreve struggle with Chow's new offense in spring ball, prompting the Utes to bring in JC transfer Jon Hays in case Jordan Wynn isn't healed or suffers an injury. The offensive line struggles as well. Robles is moved to linebacker. Hays beats out Shreve for the backup spot in fall camp. The offensive line continues to struggle. Dogs and cats start living together. The overall offense struggles with the new system in fall camp and into the season. Wynn is injured early in the season, partly because of the struggles of the offensive line. Hays takes over as the starter. He struggles. Griff Robles is moved back to quarterback for depth. The Utes lose their first four Pac 12 games.
All because Andy Dalton was born in 1987, and not 1986.
Who's To Blame?
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