Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Southern Utah Defensive Backs
It's the debut for new Utah signal caller Troy Williams, and there's a lot of optimism that Utah has found the right quarterback to allow them to take the next step as a program. It's been up and down quarterback play since Brian Johnson left after the 2008 season, but Williams has the talent to be significant difference maker. He's accurate, has a strong arm, and is a smart quarterback that also has the ability to tuck and run if needed. Will he have the receivers though? Pretty much everyone that made more than a minimal impact at the wide receiver position is gone. Tim Patrick returns after playing in only one game last year and should be the most complete receiver the Utes have had in years and the most talented since Dres Anderson. He's a matchup nightmare with his size, athleticism, and underrated speed. After him? There are questions. Tyrone Smith had a moderately productive freshman year and has upside and Kyle Fulks has speed that Utah hasn't seen at wide receiver in years, but both are fairly green, although they each should be able to thrive with a quarterback like Williams. Throw in Caleb Repp and Raelon Singleton, and there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.
The Southern Utah secondary was very good last season in limiting opponents to just 190 yards per game through the air. Junior Kyle Hanneman returns at safety after making 4 interceptions as a sophomore. Tyler Collett had two picks last year and should man the other safety spot. Josh Thornton is coming off a season with 2 interceptions and hold down a cornerback spot.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Southern Utah Linebackers
Devontae Booker is gone and it'll be a committee that will try to replace arguably the greatest running back in Utah history. Joe Williams finished off last season with three solid performances in a starting roll and looks bigger, stronger, and faster this year. Troy McCormick returns after missing last season with an ACL tear and will add a dynamic playmaker in the backfield that can be used in a variety of ways. Either Armand Shyne or freshman Zack Moss should get the third string reps as a power back. Will any of them be as good as Booker? No. Can they combine to do what Booker did the last two years? They can. The Utah tight ends took a hit with the loss of Siale Fakailoatonga, but Harrison Handley and Evan Moeia are more than capable, particularly Handley, who showed last year that he can be a weapon.
Junior Mike Needham returns after posting 94 tackles last season. Matching him with 94 tackles is Taylor Nelson who also had 7 tackles for loss. Junior Tufuga and Tyler Penkalski should also see significant reps.
Utah Offensive Line vs Southern Utah Defensive Line
Four starters return and with the addition of five star JC tackle, Garrett Bolles, the Utes should have one of the top lines in the conference. They stayed healthy throughout fall camp and looked to be gelling as JJ Dielman made the move from tackle to center after an all conference year. Sam Tevi will move to the right tackle spot with Isaac Asiata and Leka Uhatafe manning the guard spots.
SUU does throw out a decent defensive line led by the mammoth Sefesi Vaa'ivaka who comes in at 350 pounds. Next to him is Robert Torgensen with Taylor Pili and Chance Bearnson at the end spot providing a pass rush. They won't be the toughest line that Utah goes against, but will still give them issues at times.
Southern Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Utah Defensive Backs
Sophomore McCoy Hill gets the nod for the Thunderbirds and he's a giant. At 6-6, 245 pounds, the sophomore may be a bit rusty having not played in a live football game since high school in 2010. Desean Holmes is a former 4-star USC commit, San Diego State signee, who starts his college career in Cedar City. The kid is talented and is someone the Utes will need to keep in check. Mike was last year's leading receiver with 54 grabs and 13 touchdowns and will return. Brady Measom is a little guy, but returns after making 39 grabs while Ty Rutledge had 30 grabs last year and is well built guy at 6-1, 200 pounds. There are weapons for McCoy that should test the Utah secondary a bit.
The Utes should be tremendous in the secondary, returning 4 of their 5 starters, with the one newcomer possibly being the guy with the most talent and highest ceiling. Reggie Porter and Dominique Hatfield might be the best duo of of corners in the conference while Justin Thomas has been as consistent as any Pac 12 DB in the last two seasons. Marcus Williams is coming off of a 1st team all conference season while thought by many to this season's breakout player. If SUU can complete over 55% of their balls against these guys, they'll take it.
Southern Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
Senior Malik Brown ran for over 800 yards last season with 8 touchdowns. He's got good size at 6-1, 205 pounds. Tight end Steven Wrobleski is a big 6-7 inch kid that had 36 catches last year and will be difficult for Utah's smaller linebackers to cover.
If there's one area on defense that there is still a bit of concern, it's at the linebacker spot. With the Utes in a nickel package about 80% of the time, it won't expose their lack of depth (or playable talent) too much, but is still a bit of an issue as Sunia Tauteoli, Cody Barton, and Kavika Luafatasaga work out their reps. The overall lack of experience won't be much of an issue against the Thunderbirds as long as they play assignment sound football, though.
Southern Utah Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
The Thunderbirds will trot out a line that includes a true freshman as a starter. Senior Ross Evans is probably the best of the group and comes in with 11 starts under his belt. Austin Mikkelson also started 11 games last year as a sophomore. This isn't a big line with only Grady Simi going over 300 pounds.
Utah rolls out on of the best offensive lines in the country for week 1. They're deep, talented, and should be able to slow down the Thunderbirds with ease. Between Hunter Dimick, Pita Taumeopenu, and Hunter Dimick, this could and should be a minimum 5 sack game for the team. The interior of the line might be even better with all american candidate Lowell Lotuelei anchoring things next to Filipo Mokofisi.
Tom Hackett has moved on and the loss of a two-time Ray Guy Award winner hurts, but Mitch Wishnowsky looks the part and may have a stronger leg than Hackett did. Andy Phillips returns and is poised to become the Pac 12's all-time leading scorer by the end of the season. Boobie Hobbs returns as a reliable punt returner while a pair of freshman in Julian Blackmon and Terrell Burgess will returns kicks.
Kicker Keita Calhoun was 10 of 15 on field goals last season with a long of 36 yards. Punter Tate Lewis averaged 42.1 yards per punt and launched an impressive 81 yarder as his top kick of the year in 2015. He might be busy on Thursday. Brady Measom returns punts with Mike Sharp returns kicks, but neither was very dangerous last season.