Well, what would a Utah spring game recap be without first talking about the offense? It was the highlight of the day, which is just how the coaches designed it to be, and it was spectacular.
The numbers are astounding: 797 combined yards of total offense, 532 passing yards, 265 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns…the list goes on and on and on. If the Utes can perform this well when the 2013 season officially kicks off, can you say NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!?
Realistically the 2013 Utes won't come close to producing these numbers. If you left Rice-Eccles stadium after the game thinking that is what you are going to see this fall, I'm sorry to burst your bubble. Saturday's showcase was a calculated exhibition of skill at the expense of the defense, played out exactly the way Coach Whittingham and the rest of the Utah staff wanted. Don't believe me? Let's break it down a little further and examine all of the not-so-clear reasons why this year's Red/White classic was nothing more than a made-for-TV movie created to excite fans and television viewers alike.
"Watch Every Pac-12 Spring Football Game on Pac-12 Networks!" is the slogan branded across the Pac-12 Networks online TV guide. Those of you who can actually see the channel didn't even have to leave your homes this year to see your Utes in action. What a nice benefit of upgraded Pac-12 conference affiliation, right? But if you didn't have to leave home to watch the game, neither did the coaches from Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC, or Colorado. Every coach in the conference was given a look directly into your 2013 football program, all from the comfort of their very own living rooms (displayed in glistening 1080 HD).
The Utah coaches knew this was the case. Heck, every coach in the conference knows this is the case. They're happy to have their programs shown on TV because of the recruiting benefits it provides. But, if you think they're going to go 100% and open up the playbook to test the mettle of the newcomers fighting for starting spots – you're crazy. Those battles will be fought and won in the fall, not in the spring.
The playbooks were dumbed-down, and for a very good reason. Defensively the Utes were as vanilla as Dreyer's Ice Cream to the point that it allowed the offense to simply march up and down the field without a blitz or a stunt to dissuade it. Again, look at the final offensive statistics if you don't believe me. Karl "The Truth" Williams' 3-touchdown 108-yard performance was as fun to watch as it was unrealistic. Karl has a fantastic story and is somebody that every Ute fan should root for, but he's not the second-coming of LenDale White.
Utah's defense finished the game with 4 sacks, one of which came from Greg Reese Utah's newest junior-college transfer – a tight end. It was a defense that was missing a handful of starters and potential starters – guys like Nate Orchard, Trevor Reilly, Tenny Palepoi, Brian Blechen, Eric Rowe, Wykie Freeman, Reshawn Hooker (and that's not everybody) and a defense that saw guys like Kenneth Scott and Anthony Denham running around trying to make plays. They were never meant to "stop" the offense in this game. The coaches knew that. Instead, they sent out the healthy players they had and gave them one simple base defense to run. Then they let the offense go to work.
Television coverage changes everything. When opposing coaches can tape and scout what you do simply by pushing the record button on their DVR remote you really can't show too much. Why would Kyle Whittingham and Co. give Utah State an opportunity to scout their team prior to the season opener when it isn't necessary? They're smarter than that. Instead, they invited the TV cameras in, they invited the fans in, and they put on a show – and oh what a show it was.
It was a smashing success. The chatter of fans after the game could be heard all throughout the stadium. Adam Schulz was dynamite. Travis Wilson? Even better. Who needs John White, Utah's depth in the backfield couldn't be stopped!
Utah fans needed to leave the spring game excited about the offense. Kyle Whittingham made a splash hire when he brought on Dennis Erickson, a move meant to bolster offensive productivity and give this team an identity. Kyle and Dennis couldn't afford to underwhelm offensively, not after demoting Brian Johnson, and certainly not after the past two seasons.
Is what we saw on Saturday reality? No. Not even close. But that doesn't mean the Ute offense won't be improved over last year's offensive mess. Trust me, they will be. Just don't set your expectations too high based on the team(s) you saw flying up and down the field on Saturday.
Remember fans, fall ball will separate starters and 2-deep players from the rest of the pack. That is what it is designed to do. Spring practices are an opportunity for coaches to test their depth and to give young players a chance to show what they can do while implementing new wrinkles and ideas.
This spring the team matured and developed all while learning new schemes and a new offensive philosophy, but it did not turn last year's team into a 700+ yard juggernaut. That just isn't realistic. Be excited Ute fans because there is a lot to be excited about, just don't let Saturday's display become your watermark for success. If you do you could be sorely disappointed come fall.
Utah Spring Game 2013 - A Made for TV Event
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