2012 was an atypical season for both Utah fans and the Utah football program, as the team missed going to a bowl game for the first time in 10 years. Now, with that season being a thing of the past, the Utah football program is determined to show that 2012 was not a true representation of the program. While getting back to a bowl game this year is certainly attainable, there will have to be improvement in five key areas in order to reach that bowl.
1. Offensive Identity/Continuity
It's no secret that the weakest part of the program for the better part of the past five seasons has been the offense. In five seasons, Utah has had five different Offensive Coordinators, which has also led to the problem of lack of offensive identity. Cycling through Offensive Coordinators is not a recipe for success, and is something that must get settled right away if Utah wants to have any success in 2013. Coach Kyle Whittingham looks to have addressed this area already with the hiring of veteran Offensive Coordinator/Head Coach Dennis Erickson. Erickson bring loads of experience to a inexperienced offensive staff, and looks to implement a high tempo spread offense, while also focusing on the power run game behind Utah's strong offensive line. One thing's for sure, look for the Utah offense to be more explosive in 2013.
2. 3rd Down Conversions
Last year, Utah converted a horrific 33.53% of 3rd downs. You can ask almost any football "expert" and they will tell you that 3rd down conversions are essential to a teams success. Teams like Oregon, Stanford and USC, who have consistently been at the top of the conference, usually rank within the top 3 or 4 when it comes down to 3rd down conversions, where Utah has ranked 10th and 12th in the past two years respectively. The key to 3rd down conversions is putting yourself in manageable 3rd down situations. Utah must be able to gain at least 2-3 yards on 1st and 2nd down this year, in order to put themselves in manageable 3rd down situations. If Utah can convert closer to 45 % of their 3rd down opportunities, they will have a much more successful season.
3. Creating Turnovers
Utah has widely been known for their bend, but don't break defense, that also creates an abundance of turnovers. After leading the PAC 12 in turnovers gained in 2011, with 33, Utah took a major step backwards in 2012 when they only gained a total of 22 turnovers, good enough for 7th in the conference. While Utah was still able to force quite a bit of fumbles in 2012, they severely lacked in the area of interceptions. In 2011, Utah grabbed a total 19 interceptions, compared to only 9 in 2012. It's no secret amongst the coaching staff that the lack of turnovers was a big reason for the underwhelming 2012 season. If Utah is able to get back to creating turnovers like they did in 2011, you can bet they'll be back in a bowl game in 2013.
4. Stability on the Offensive Line
2012 was not a good year for the offensive line, with the lone bright spots being the emergence of now LT Jeremiah Poutasi and now C Vyncent Jones. Both Jones and Poutasi were not a part of the orignial starting five at the beginning season, but emerged via injuries and sub par performances from their teammates. In total, seven different lineman started a game for Utah in 2012 with two of the seven playing a different position at the end of the season. Stability on the offensive line will do wonders for the offense as it'll allow the line to get in sync with each other when making reads and blocking assignments. For the duration of 2013 Spring camp, the same five players started on the offensive line and if that trend continues into the season, the line should be vastly improved.
5. Pass Coverage from LB's
If there's one area that you had to pick that Utah has severely underperformed in since their joining the PAC 12, you could make a strong argument for the Linebackers. Aside from Stanford, and to a lesser extent USC, the major theme in the PAC 12 is spread offenses, and speed on the edges. While Utah's linebackers are more than capable when it comes to rush defense, they've been badly exposed in the pass game the past two years. Utah has shown that they just don't have the speed to keep up with other teams slot receivers, as well as their tight ends. Utah looks to address that deficiency with the moving of senior strong safety Brian Blechen to outside linebacker. The coaches have always stated that Blechen is a more natural linebacker, but due to inexperience in the secondary, they've been forced to keep him at strong safety. Blechen looks to bring more speed and athleticism to the linebacker group. Also, look for more of sophomore Reshawn Hooker, redshirt sophomore Jared Norris and true freshman Uaea Masina to help out in the pass game. Utah must address this area if they're going to have any success at stopping offenses like Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA.
5 Areas of Concern for Utah in 2013
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