When Utah has the ball
It's a new year for Utah football: new coaches, a new offensive identity, and fresh new faces at multiple positions. This season all eyes will be on Dennis Erickson's new up-tempo offense in hopes of seeing a more consistent, dangerous scoring attack. Erickson wants the Utes to average 30 points per game, and if they can do that I believe they'll win more games than many folks are expecting.
Travis Wilson enters the year as the no-doubt starter. After leading the Utes through 7 games last season the young team captain will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders in 2013. Utah's new offense will be fast, but it should remain fairly balanced between the run and the pass. With a host of solid running backs behind him Wilson should get plenty of help from his ground game which will hopefully make the passing attack that much easier. One of Wilson's biggest weaknesses last year was his inability to consistently progress through multiple reads, often resulting in forced throws into double coverage. Wilson's decision-making and reads seemed to get better throughout spring and fall camp so keep an eye on this as it should be an early indicator of how successful he will be this year.
Running backs Kelvin York and James Poole pulled away from the pack as fall camp came to an end. These two offer different strengths and should complement each other well. York is a bruising back. He'll pound the middle of the line and will be the primary back against Utah State. He runs the read-option well and is a solid blocker in the passing game as well. If Utah is going to have a 1,000-yard rusher this year, York likely will be that guy. Look for York to start the game and be a primary focus offensively as the team settles in to the first game of the season. James Poole is a faster, sure-handed back who will likely play a big role in the pass game this year. Look for him to take a lot of quick-flare passes out of the backfield as those plays are a staple of Dennis Erickson-run offenses.
The tight end position hasn't been one that Utah has fully-utilized over the years, but this year I expect that to change. Dennis Erickson, a man with national championships under his belt, says he has never had two tight ends as good as Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga. Travis Wilson will target these guys early and often against the Aggies and will make them a red-zone priority throughout the season. The Aggies have great linebackers led by pre-season all-MWC selection Kyler Fackrell which could pose a problem but their combination of size, speed, and hands will give them a great opportunity to succeed against some NFL-caliber backers.
At wideout the Utes need playmakers. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are both solid players who have the skills to succeed but they need to step up and make plays if this team is going to get back to a bowl game. I expect both of these players to get targeted 5-10 times each per game, so they're going to need to take advantage of those opportunities and put many of last year's mistakes behind them, dropped balls specifically.
Defensively they Aggies pose a major test for this Ute offense. This team is loaded with quality players, a few of whom could end up playing on Sunday's next season. The linebackers for the Aggies will be some of the best Utah will face all year. Kyler Fackrell, Zach Vigil, and Jake Doughty are all very good players who will cause problems for the Utes in both the running and passing games. Conner Williams is a space-eater on the defensive line who, similar to Star Lotulelei for the Utes last year, can explode off the ball and break up a play before it begins. Nevin Lawson is a potential NFL cornerback for the Aggies and somebody who will make the downfield passing game difficult. The Aggies aren't the best defense the Utes will see all season, but they are very good. Utah will need to play smart, mistake-free football on offense in order to consistently move the ball against this Aggie squad.
When Utah State Has The Ball
Kyle Whittingham summed it up best in two words: Chuckie Keeton. He's definitely the best quarterback in the state of Utah and might be the best player period. Now, how does Utah stop him? Multiple blitz packages? Different defensive looks? Speed? All of the above.
The speed and athleticism edge that Utah has is fairly significant. With guys like Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard coming off of the edge, the Aggies, even with their 'vaunted' offensive line led by center Tyler Larsen, will have trouble containing the speed. Throw in the bulk and quick first step of guys like Tenny Palepoi and Sese Ianu inside, and the trench battle that so many are already handing to Utah State is there for the taking for the Utes. Larsen is an elite player though, and an all american candidate. Tackle Eric Schultz is another elite lineman and when you return all five offensive linemen, the continuity and commeraderie of that line is tough to handle. Will be a fun battle to watch.
Kerwyn Williams is gone at running back and in steps Joe Hill. At 5-11, 190 pounds, he's not the biggest back, but is fairly quick and may give the Ute linebackers issues at times. The Utah linebacker, on the other hand, don't look as improved over last season as most had hoped. Brian Blechen moving there full time helps (although he may not play), but Jared Norris is largely unproven, while VJ Fehoko and LT Filiaga have their own deficiencies.
How will the Utah corners do in the first NCAA test for many of them? Justin Thomas, Keith McGill, and Davion Orphey will get the nod and will be asked to hold down a USU receiving corps that lost its top five receivers from last year and replaced them with a big kid in Travis Van Leeuwen and a speedier receiver in Travis Reynolds. The Aggies often employ four and five receiver sets, so the Utah corners are going to have a busy day. Eric Rowe at safety will be a big help with two years of starting experience under his belt. Him spying on Keeton and keeping the long-ball in check is a must for the Utes.
Utah Wins If...
...they play their game. More talent. Better coaches. There's no reason the size and athleticism of the Utes shouldn't control this one.
Gorringe- Utah 34 Utah State 20
Karren- Utah Utah State
Olson- Utah Utah State
Swinney- Utah 27 Utah State 17
Robert Jackson- Utah
Game Preview: Utah vs Utah State
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