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Q&A With Block U: Talking Utah Utes

In advance of tomorrow's match-up with Utah we reached out to fellow SBN blog Block U to get the scoop on all things Utah football - here's what we found out...

Utah QB Travis Wilson could be the X-factor in Saturday's game
Utah QB Travis Wilson could be the X-factor in Saturday's game
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

We talked with Alex Stark, a former Seattleite who helps run Block U, the SBN site serving Utah fans.  Here's what he had to say:

UWDP: Devontae Booker has been huge for Utah in his two seasons since transferring from American River as a JC.  How would you describe his running style, and what do the Utes do on offense to maximize his talent?

BU: Booker is a physical runner. He is not afraid of contact and will run through tackles. He also is quicker than you might think, so he can hurt teams around the edge. He can hurt teams through the air as well catching (and throwing) the ball. He had over 100 yards receiving last season against Oregon (and threw a TD pass against Oregon this season). A running back he reminds me of a little is Cory Dillon; I think they have a similar running style. Booker also models himself after Marshawn Lynch in that both are physical runners. Utah is maximizing his talents by getting him the ball a lot. Booker is second nationally in rushing attempts per game (behind only LSU's Leonard Fournette). Utah also tries to get him the ball in different ways, whether it be a run up the middle or something to the outside or throwing him the ball. He will also occasionally line up out wide.

UWDP: Travis Wilson has been very good in Utah's wins this year and not so much in the loss at USC.  His numbers put him squarely in the upper half of the conference, but his 7 interceptions show he's still prone to some mistakes.  What is your confidence level in the Senior signal-caller?

BU: Wilson has been consistently inconsistent throughout his career. He has played well and led Utah to some big wins (Stanford in 2013, USC in 2014, Oregon in 2015). The problem is he does not maintain that high level of play consistently. When he makes a mistake, it seems like it can rattle him, and he will then generally make more mistakes (like you saw against USC in 2015). I believe if Wilson has a good game, Utah will win, and if he has a bad game, Utah will lose. I predicted UW to win because I get the feeling Wilson will have a bad game against a good Husky defense and in a hostile environment (though he has shown the ability to play well on the road). If UW can rattle him with an early interception, that will put the Huskies in a good position for the game against Wilson.

UWDP: Utah has been known for their defense for as long as Kyle Whittingham has been coaching there.  While the sack numbers are down this year with the graduation of Nate Orchard, the Utes still possess what is one of the three best defenses in the conference this year.  What is it that makes Utah so consistently tough on this side of the ball?

BU: Utah has a great defensive mind in head coach Kyle Whittingham, and Utah knows how to recruit guys to fit their defensive system. This year's defense has a lot of talent on it, and the coaching staff is maximizing that talent. The Utah defensive line may not be producing as many sacks, but they are statistically better against the run than last year and still get pressure, forcing quarterbacks into bad decisions (as evidenced by the fact that Utah leads the Pac-12 in interceptions). The linebacking corps is very talented with Gionni Paul, Jared Norris, and Jason Whittingham, and the secondary has ball hawks like Marcus Williams at free safety (who leads the Pac-12 with four interceptions), cornerback Dominique Hatfield (who is tied for second with three interceptions), Reggie Porter, and Justin Thomas. Strong safety Tevin Carter is big and physical and is almost playing like another linebacker for Utah.

UWDP: Utah is 7-1, 4-1 in conference including key wins over Michigan and Oregon, yet they head into Husky Stadium as 1.5 point underdogs to the 4-4 (2-3 in conference) Huskies - are you surprised at the betting line here?

BU: I am not sure if you saw, but this is the second time Utah is a road underdog to an unranked team (the other being against USC). It really did not surprise me. Utah is a team that many people do not believe are for real despite the good record and impressive wins. UW is also coming off a game where they absolutely destroyed Arizona. In close games, the home team will always get a slight edge, and that is partly what I see here. UW is also given a very, very slight edge in FPI (I believe they have a 50.3% chance to win). Utah also has struggled recently (losing to USC and not beating OSU very convincingly) where UW might be rounding into form. I expect this to be a close, physical game.

UWDP: With some high profile job openings already around CFB, Whittingham's name is being mentioned as a possibility, particularly after the friction he had with his new AD last off-season.  Given his strong roots in the state of Utah and the progression the program has made since joining the conference, it doesn't seem particularly likely he'd leave, but are there any jobs that worry you in terms of their potential to lure him away?

BU: I will be surprised if he leaves honestly. The friction with athletic director Dr. Chris Hill was overblown in my mind honestly. They certainly are not best friends, but I don't think it is as bad as some in the media made it seem. I doubt it would happen, but I think the best fit for Whittingham (and the only job I could realistically see him leaving for) would be an NFL job. His defense works very well against pro-style offenses, and it would be a case where it would be a new challenge for him that he has not accomplished. Again, I think the odds are very slim this happens, but it would be more likely in my mind than him leaving for a different college head coaching job. He has previously turned down some big job offers (like Tennessee in 2010 for example).

UWDP: How do you see this game playing out?

BU: I see this as a tough, physical game with the defenses controlling the game for both teams. The key for me is which quarterback will play better and does not get rattled by the great defenses, and I feel like there is a slightly better chance that is Washington quarterback Jake Browning. He has shown great poise as a true freshman and had his best game of the season last week. Utah has not played at Husky Stadium since 1979, and UW is the only Pac-12 team Utah has never beaten. I see UW winning in a close, low scoring game 16-13.


Thanks again to Alex for helping us out with our questions, and be sure to visit Block U for coverage of Utah athletics.