Bright and early on Monday morning, the University of Utah football program announced on the hiring of former Eastern Washington co-offensive coordinator Troy Taylor as the Utes' new offensive coordinator and quarterback's coach. The Utes had announced the parting of way between them and former co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick last week, and the Utes made the quick to make the hiring of Taylor official.
Taylor spent this past season at FCS program Eastern Washington, which has routinely been an FCS powerhouse, as the quarterbacks coach, passing game coordinator and play caller. This was Taylor's first season back coaching in the college ranks after spending seven years as the head coach at Folsom High School in Folsom, CA, and had previously spent 4 years as an assistant coach at the University of California, where he was also a record-breaking quarterback in the 90's.
Taylor may be most well known for coaching and grooming current Washington quarterback Jake Browning. Browning broke numerous national records as the QB at Folsom HS, and then spent most of 2016 as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate. Washington head coach Chris Petersen has spoken incredibly highly of Taylor numerous times, calling him a great mentor of players.
At Eastern Washington this past season, Taylor was tasked with finding a new starting quarterback for the Eagles, and settled on redshirt sophomore Gage Gubrud, whose only appearance as an Eagle prior to 2016 resulted in him completing 7 of 13 passes and throwing an interception. As the full time starter in 2016 though, and under the coaching of Taylor, Gubrud threw for 5,160 yards, 48 TD's and 14 INT's. He completed 67% of passes, and also ran for 606 yards and 5 TD's.
After Eastern Washington's upset of Washington State to open the 2016 season, the Eagles' head coach Beau Baldwin credited Taylor with the ability to call creative plays at the right moment, keeping the Washington State defense on their heels and not knowing what play was going to come next.
As for what type of offense Taylor will bring to Utah, don't expect the Utes to suddenly become a team that throws the football 40-50 times a game. The Eastern Washington offense ran a lot 4 and 5 wide receiver sets last season, but also ran plenty of 2 tight end sets as well. When not throwing the ball, the Eagles used their quarterback as a weapon in the ground game, utilizing a spread option run style of attack. Expect Taylor to bring elements of that style of offense to Utah, while also incorporating many of the power run element that Utah successfully used last season.
Perhaps the most important thing that Taylor will be in charge of is the development of Utah's current stable of quarterbacks. Starter Troy Williams seemed to regress as Utah's season went on, though an MCL injury could be partly to blame for that. Williams failed to complete more than 50% of his passes four times this past season, but the offensive scheme didn't seem to do him any favors. As a touted QB guru, Taylor will be responsible for coaching up Williams, sophomore to be Tyler Huntley, and incoming freshman Jason Shelley. He may also have a tough decision on his hands early on, as Huntley made impressive strides to end the season, and it appears that there will be a full fledged QB competition this offseason between him and incumbent starter Troy Williams.
While Taylor brings many positives to the Utah coaching staff, one thing remains abundantly clear. Taylor must be given the full reigns of the offense if Utah is to fix their woes on this side of the ball. We have seen Utah bring in established play callers before in the past, only to see the Utah offense struggle with the same issues that have plagued them for the past 6 seasons. Coach Whittingham must give Taylor full autonomy of the offense if things are going to change, and while that hasn't happened recently, we remain cautiously optimistic of that happening going forward.
Does the hiring of Taylor signify a "changing of the guard" at Utah, or will we continue to see the same issues we've seen in the past? We'll have to wait to find out, but the hiring of Taylor is a good start.