Game matchups: Utah D vs. Indiana O

UteZone breaks down the matchups when the Utah defense and special teams take the field

Indiana Offense vs. Utah Defense

Indiana is undergoing a coaching change as former head coach Kevin Wilson resigned on December 1. Defensive coordinator Tom Allen was announced as the new head coach the same day. The rest of the coaching staff remained the same, with quality control assistant Shawn Watson promoted to quarterbacks coach.

Quarterback Richard Lagow has been inconsistent in his first year of FBS competition. The JUCO transfer has completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 3,174 yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He doesn’t have a great arm and doesn’t throw with great accuracy, but he does just enough to get the ball to his receivers and allow them to make some plays. Lagow can move some, though he isn’t a threat to pick up yards on the ground and doesn’t throw well on the run. He can be difficult to bring down at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds, and he can move in the pocket to avoid the pass rush. He is at his best when throwing shorter crossing routes to his inside receivers and at his worst when trying to throw deep down field, often underthrowing receivers.

On the offensive line, Indiana is led by All American Dan Feeney. Typically a guard, Feeney has played right tackle the last month of the season filling in for the injured Brandon Knight. Feeney is a better guard than tackle, but he is a capable player and will win his matchup the majority of the time. He has great strength to go along with quick feet and solid technique, and officially has allowed just two sacks in his career. Feeney is by far the best player on the Indiana offensive line. Wes Rogers is a solid center, quick and accurate with shotgun snaps. He is not a dominating blocker, struggling at times when isolated one-on-one. Wes Martin is a decent left guard, much better as a run blocker than pass protector. Freshman left tackle Coy Cronk has played well for a true freshman. He is a good athlete for the position, but lacks ideal strength. He is a solid pass blocker who moves well and can generate some movement in the zone-blocking running scheme. Indiana’s weakness up front is picking up the blitz, as the line and backs can be confused by movement and bringing extra players in gaps. They have allowed 26 sacks and 87 tackles for loss on the season, against a schedule that didn’t feature many teams adept at making plays behind the line-of-scrimmage.

Junior Devine Redding is the workhorse back, accounting for nearly half of Indiana’s carries and more than half of the rushing yards. On the season, he has carried the ball 236 times for 1,050 yards and six touchdowns. Redding is not a big-play threat as he lacks speed and quickness (12 career runs of 20 or more yards, four this season), but he is a good interior runner and he can make some plays in the passing game. Freshmen Tyler Natee (61 carries, 237 yards, two touchdowns) and Devonte Williams (45 carries, 161 yards) round out the depth chart. Indiana will also bring in backup quarterback Zander Diamont to run the option. Diamont is the most dynamic and explosive runner on the team, carrying the ball 38 times for 241 yards and four touchdowns, including a pair of touchdown runs of 50 or more yards.

Indiana’s best players are the receivers. Nick Westbrook, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige are the reason Indiana has any explosiveness on offense and are the Indiana passing game. Paige leads the team with 54 receptions, gaining 604 yards and three touchdowns from the slot. Paige has good speed and quickness, and is at his best when given the ball with room to run after the catch. Nick Westbrook leads the team with 915 yards and five touchdowns on 49 catches. Westbrook has good size at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and is good a going up and snagging deep passes. Jones has caught 50 passes for 783 yards and three touchdowns, and is a good combination of Westbrook and Paige. He is a little undersized at 5-foot-10, but he runs good routes and can make plays both downfield and after the catch. Luke Timian (19 catches, 277 yards, one touchdown) and Donavan Hale (13 catches, 210 yards, one touchdown) are the only other receivers to catch more than seven passes. Indiana does not utilize their tight ends in the passing game, with starting tight end Danny Friend catching seven passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns this season. Friend is a much better blocker than pass catcher and used more as a sixth offensive lineman. Redding has contributed 27 catches, 146 yards and two scores from the running back position.

In the running game, when Lagow is in Indiana will run mostly inside zone plays, with the occasional outside zone and zone-read thrown in. They will run some power, pulling the backside guard. When Diamont comes in, Indiana runs more zone-read and QB power plays, trying to take advantage of Diamont’s athleticism. Indiana lacks the speed in the running game to consistently get outside the tackles. They will also run the occasional Wildcat package.

In the passing game, Indiana keeps things relatively simple with short and intermediate crossing routes. They will throw some play-action passes and screen passes, and when Lagow is throwing the ball well they can push the ball down the field. 

Despite the coaching change, Indiana should not change much on offense. They will run a high-tempo spread attach, focusing on the running game while trying to get the ball to Paige and Jones in space while taking occasional shots downfield to Westbrook. They do not do much in the way of pre-snap shifts and motions. They will often place all three receivers on the same side of the field to try and create favorable matchups.

Utah’s defense struggled the last half of the season, giving up nearly 32 points per game in their final five contests. The pass defense in particular was poor, allowing 320 yards per game, 12 touchdowns and 59.5 completion percentage. Unsurprisingly, the Utes went 2-3 in those five games, playing themselves out of the Pac-12 South race.

Up front, Utah played well for most of the season, making plays in the backfield against the run and the pass. Utah was a top-15 team in both sacks (40, 10th nationally) and tackles for loss (95, 15th) with most of those plays being made by defensive linemen. 34 sacks and 60 tackles for loss came from defensive linemen. Hunter Dimick led the team with 14.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss and was Utah’s most consistent defensive player. He will face arguably his toughest matchup this season in Feeney. Utah should have an advantage in the interior, as Lowell Lotulelei should be the healthiest he’s been this season.

Sunia Tauteoli and Kavika Luafatasaga will be tested at linebacker, and the position has been the weak link of the defense all season. Utah has battled through injury and poor play at linebacker. The group can be good in run defense when they move to the ball and stay within the system, but far too often they have been late to the ball, especially outside the tackles. Pass coverage at linebacker has been poor all season, and something Indiana will try to take advantage of.

In the secondary, Utah’s corners were up-and-down all season. Brian Allen and Reggie Porter were expected to play better than they have. Both have made their share of plays this season, but consistency has been a major problem, as both have allowed too many big plays. They will be tested by receivers that can beat them deep, something the Utes have struggled to defend. Utah will have to find ways to cover the Indiana receivers when all three line up on the same side of the field, as any matchup that puts Chase Hansen or a linebacker one-on-one is a win for the Hoosiers. Hansen is a decent cover safety when defending tight ends or receivers near the line-of-scrimmage, but he lacks the speed to cover any Indiana receiver down the field. Utah will benefit from having a healthy Marcus Williams, and with a quarterback that tends to stare down his target, Williams could get his hands on one or more passes.

Edge: Even

Special Teams

Indiana has been something close to a disaster this season on special teams this season. Placekicker Griffin Oaks has made 15 of 24 field goal attempts this season, and has made only seven of 14 kicks of 30 or more yards, and has had three field goal attempts blocked. He has also missed a pair of extra points. Oaks was a solid kicker in 2015, but something has happened this season in his approach as he is not hitting the ball as cleanly or as consistently as he did last season. It has affected his kickoffs as well, as he has had four kicks go out-of-bounds in 57 kickoffs. Punter Joseph Gedeon has not been any better, averaging just 40 yards per punt with three blocked punts of his own.

The return game has not been good this season, as Indiana is averaging 19.1 yards per kick return and 7.6 yards per punt return. Devonte Williams leads Indiana with a 19.8-yard average on 34 kick returns. He isn’t much of a threat to break big returns, and his blocking has been poor. Mitchell Paige handles punt returns, averaging 7.3 yards on 16 returns. Paige should be a better return man than the numbers show, but he makes some bad decisions and has not had good blocking. He does have a 39-yard return this season and two punt return touchdowns in 2015.

Indiana is solid on coverage, allowing 20.3 yards per kick return and 5.9 yards per punt return. They will also get after kicks, blocking three punts and two field goals this season.

Utah, on the other hand, has not had a kicked blocked since 2012 and has been solid this year on special teams. Mitch Wishnowsky won the Ray Guy Award, Utah’s third consecutive time winning national punter of the year. Wishnowsky led the nation in net punting by nearly two yards per punt, and led the nation in punts of 50 or more yards, punts inside the 20-yard line and punts inside the 10-yard line. Andy Phillips took a bit of a step back this season, making 17 of his 21 kicks, but he has been consistent from inside 45 yards his entire career and is one of the better kickers in the conference. Chase Dominguez is an excellent snapper and perhaps the biggest reason why Utah hasn’t had a blocked kick since he took over snapping duties.

Utah’s coverage teams have been solid, allowing 20.4 yards per kick return and 7.6 yards per punt return, though they have allowed both a kick and a punt return for a touchdown this season.

In the return game Cory Butler-Byrd and Kyle Fulks are home-run threats as kick returners. Butler-Byrd had a 99-yard touchdown return earlier this season while Fulks is averaging 35 yards on five returns, including a 93-yard return against Colorado. Boobie Hobbs still takes too many chances on punt returns, but he finally broke one against Colorado, weaving through the coverage for a 55-yard score.

Edge: Utah

 


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