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Opponent Offense Preview: Utah

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Former Husky QB Troy Williams leads the Utah offense against Washington on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

To date, Utah’s record since Chris Petersen started coaching the Huskies in 2014 is 26-8. That is the best record in the Pac-12 over that span, better than both Stanford and Oregon. How have they done it? Well, coaching consistency has helped a great deal; Kyle Whittingham has been the head man at Utah since 2005. With that comes a system, mentality, and process that are ingrained into everyone in the program. For Utah, that means toughness, physicality, execution, and avoiding mistakes. That is their identity. It ain’t always pretty, but it works. Let’s take a closer look.

The Basics

One of Kyle Whittingham’s all-important statistics is turnover margin, and Utah ranks favorably here at #9 nationally. They aren’t at Washington’s level (a ridiculous +14), but sporting a +9 margin is very strong. Taking a closer look at these numbers, Utah’s margin is buoyed by 22 takeaways, and they have astonishingly coughed up the ball 14 times - nearly three times the amount the Huskies have. That includes 9 fumbles, which is pretty uncharacteristic of Utah.

Through the air, Utah is not the most efficient offense. They’ve only thrown 7 TDs all year and rank #90 in passing efficiency. However, they gain 13.25 yards per completion, which is third best in the Pac-12, and only a yard worse than Washington. Trouble is, Utah doesn’t complete a ton of passes per game and only generates around 215 yards per game in the air. At the end of the day, however, Utah doesn’t want to be known as a passing offense. They make their money on the ground, to the tune of 215 yards per game and 19 total touchdowns.


Troy Williams: 1,725 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs, 55% completion, 7.53 yards/attempt.

Our old friend Troy Williams is at the helm for Utah, having previously left the Washington program after a year under Chris Petersen. He never truly broke through at Washington, and many will say he never got a real shot here. True or not, you can’t deny his skill set, and particularly the arm talent that many in Seattle were drooling over when he arrived. The ball jumps out of his hand with good zip, and he can really spin it, throwing a tight spiral. He’s also got good mobility, though he’s absolutely a pass-first QB, and not a classic dual threat.

However, the stats don’t lie: Troy Williams is a fairly average QB. He could very well hit the 3,000-yard mark this season, but 55% completion is a bit uninspiring, especially in a run-first offense. Where it really counts though is scoring TDs, and he has only thrown for seven this year, while rushing for another five. Through Utah’s first four games, Williams threw 6 TDs and 4 INTs (though three of those picks were in one game). In that span, he only rushed the ball 22 times for 1 TD. Now let’s look at their last four games, where the script has flipped. He’s thrown 1 TD and 1 INT in the last four games, but has rushed 43 times—nearly double his rushing attempts from his first four games. He’s also got four of his five rushing TDs in the last four games, which is a stark turnaround in the source of his scoring.

Running Backs

Joe Williams: 85 rushes for 586 yards and 5 TDs.

Zach Moss: 70 rushes for 315 yards and 2 TDs.

Joining Troy in the backfield will be another Williams, Joe, a senior from Allentown, PA. Flat out, Williams can ball. He’s incredibly quick with 4.35 speed, and he also runs with violence and tenacity. He totes the rock with vigor. You’ve probably heard about his 332-yard, 4-TD day against UCLA last weekend, which came two weeks after he retired from the team. Apparently 179 yards in his first game back against Oregon State just wasn’t enough of a welcome-back party!

He started the season very slowly, only gaining 75 yards in two games with no touchdowns. He also fumbled in each game. He decided to retire, citing some nagging injuries and a lack of strong desire to keep playing football. Injuries piled up for Utah’s running backs, and he was asked to return, which he did. In his last two games since his return, he’s rushed for 511 yards and 5 TDs. Granted, that production came against Oregon State and a UCLA team whose mentality these days is quite weak. He had wide-open holes to run through, and a slow, disinterested UCLA defense to navigate, but boy, did he beat them. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, 300+ yards in a game is excellent production.

Backing up Williams is freshman Zach Moss, from Florida. He’s had some good games already this year, including 90 tough yards against USC on 23 carries. However, he struggled against UCLA last week, with only 4 attempts for 1.5 yards/rush. Despite that, Utah OC Dennis Erickson (by the way, Dennis Erickson is Utah’s offensive coordinator!) says about Moss: “His lower body is huge. He’s very explosive, hard to bring down, got good feet.” Sounds like a classic Utah RB to me.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Tim Patrick: 24 catches for 429 yards and 5 TDs.

Raelon Singleton: 19 catches for 307 and 1 TD.

Cory Butler-Byrd: 17 catches for 263 yards.

Evan Moeai (TE): 14 catches for 196 yards.

Siaosi Wilson: 8 catches for 104 yards.

Tyrone Smith: 10 catches for 148 yarrds and 1 TD.

Utah’s star here is Tim Patrick, though he’s been slowed by injuries the last three games. He’s got excellent size at 6’5” and 210 pounds and leads the teams in both catches and yards. Kyle Whittingham is as coy about injuries as Chris Petersen, so it’s unclear if Tim Patrick will be full go this weekend, or if Whittingham will continue to deploy him as a decoy. In each of the three games with a hobbled Patrick, different receivers have picked up the slack. When Utah faced Arizona, TE Evan Moeai stepped up with 81 yards receiving out of his TE spot, and Tyrone Smith caught Utah’s only passing TD. The next week against Oregon State, nobody stepped up, as they only completed 4 passes all game. Against UCLA, it was Siaosi Wilson, a 6’2” freshman who caught 4 passes for 71 yards, including one 42-yard grab.

Overall, this is a group that has a lot of size, which they use to their advantage in downfield blocking. Patrick is 6’5”, Wilson is 6’2”, Singleton is 6’3”, and Smith is 6’4”. The smallest of the group is Cory Butler-Byrd. While he doesn’t have a TD yet this year, he’s a multi-talented offensive player in the mold of a John Ross. They’ll look for him in the screen game, on deep passes, and on various sweeps and runs out of the backfield. He’s explosive, with catches of 45, 21, 69, and 43 yards this year. He also has three runs this year of 15+ yards.

Offensive Line

This is where Utah lives: in the trenches. The two best players are center J.J. Dielman and tackle Garett Bolles. Dielman was a tackle on the 2015 Utes, earning All-Pac-12 honors. As is usually the case with a team’s best lineman, they moved him to center when the need arose. However, he was injured in fall camp and lost for the year. The Utes are now down to 4th stringer and former walk on Nick Nowakowski. Filling in at the LT position will be JUCO transfer Garett Bolles, who has slotted in seamlessly protecting Troy Williams’s blind side. Utah is tied nationally in sacks allowed per game with - wait for it - Alabama (though they gave up five against UCLA). Who cares what the actual number is; they’re as good as Alabama (though it’s 1.88 per game if you care). Bolles grades out extremely well as a run blocker, earning Pro Football Focus’s top run blocking grade for all OTs in college football. Expect Utah to pull him on run plays to take advantage of that ability. Isaac Asiata is an All-Pac-12 caliber player at guard and has 36 starts under his belt.

Coach K is right. Utah simply executes at a high level and they make you pay for mistakes. If you don’t fit the run on defense, their OL and run game will gash you. They are an experienced group that as they entered the season with 90 career starts among the returning OL.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to place Utah’s offense. On one hand, they possess a top-notch running back who clearly can get his yards. The QB throws for the fifth most yards per game in the conference. Their receivers are huge, and the OL is physical and experienced. That’s a good formula, right? On the other hand, they convert less than 40% of their third downs, and are pretty awful in the red zone. They only score 75% of the time inside the 20, 113th in the nation, with almost all of those scores coming on the ground. Troy Williams has only found the end zone once in the air in the last four games and has seemingly relied on his legs and scrambling in recent games. Despite this, they are still winning, and that’s called great coaching.

Where Washington needs to excel is getting off the field when Utah has the ball (obviously). Utah can control the clock with the run game, and in fact leads the nation in time of possession at 35:30 per game. This will be key, as I have no trouble imagining Washington’s defense completely shutting down Troy Williams and the pass game. As many around here, myself included, have noted before, when Washington faces average QBs, they usually make them look pretty awful.