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Opponent Offense Preview: Utah Utes

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Utah has another offensive coordinator. What else is new?

NCAA Football: Arizona at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss are back for another year, and it finally seems to be coming together for the Utes’ offense.

Key Stats

Rush play percentage: 65%

2nd quarter points per game: 13.3

Yards per play: 6.5

Plays per game: 68 (#92)

Rush yards per game: 219 (5.04 YPC)

Sacks: 7

Offensive Philosophy

Utah is on approximately its 78th offensive coordinator in the last 10 years, after miraculously keeping the last guy, Troy Taylor, for two whole seasons. After Jake Browning’s former high school coach left to coach Sacramento State, Utah turned to former OC Andy Ludwig, who was with the team in the same capacity from 2005-2008. He’s spent a lot of time around the Pac-12 footprint with stops at Cal, Oregon, San Diego State, and Fresno State. He’s known as a coordinator who schemes to get the ball into his best players hands. It sounds obvious - isn’t every team trying to do that? To a degree. The air raid for example, is more about running the system than highlighting certain playmakers. Same with the triple option. With Ludwig, the scheme changes but it’s all about keeping the best athletes on the field and getting them the ball. They are significantly more multiple than they were with Troy Taylor, and take more of a week-to-week “game plan” approach instead of just running their offense.

Andy Ludwig is a Utah native who was a two year letterman in football and track at Bonneville High School, outside Ogden, UT.

This is still Utah and Kyle Whittingham is still the head coach, so the bread and butter will always be the run game. Utah is certainly committed to it, running over 40 times per game and accounting for two thirds of their offensive play calls. Ludwig hasn’t kept things entirely the same, however. The scheme is more complex than the simpler reads of Troy Taylor’s pass attack. Receiver routes are all pre-determined, which puts pressure on Huntley to audible or change routes pre-snap if he sees something in the defense - unlike a run and shoot type of scheme where receivers just run to open grass.

Key Players

RB Zack Moss: 110 rushes, 728 yards, 10 TDs

The 222 pound Moss just keeps piling up stats and records as a Ute. In Utah’s 35-0 decimation of Cal, he broke the school record for career rushing touchdowns with 32, and career 100-yard games with his fifteenth. Moss is a very physical between the tackles running back, with great vision and just enough speed to be a threat in the open field. He’s got a strong lower body and great balance, but isn’t the shiftiest moving laterally. But that doesn’t always matter when he bowls over defenders and lowers his shoulder for extra yards. What really sets him apart aside from his physicality, is his vision and ability to set up blocks. He has nice timing and feel for the position and he has almost a controlled approach to hitting the hole, thinking steps ahead to break off big runs.

QB Tyler Huntley: 1,778 yards, 10 TD/1 INT, 73% completion, 10.6 yards per attempt

The athletic Tyler Huntley is putting up eye popping passing efficiency stats this season. Utah runs the ball a ton, which really opens things up for calculated passes from Huntley. He has nice touch and can throw from a variety of positions in the pocket. He can throw a really pretty ball and drop it on a receivers back shoulder from time to time. But where he really shines is on the run. He has the burst to win the edge against defenders and get turned up field quickly. His agility allows him to make guys miss in space and his pocket instincts help him avoid sacks.

WR Bryan Thompson: 14 receptions, 371 yards, 3 TDs

Utah spreads the ball out a ton to their wide receivers but Thompson is the most explosive of the bunch and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns. He’s a quick receiver in and out of his breaks and shows nice body control as well. He’s a little raw but is producing well this year. He is one of seven Utah receivers with double digit catches. Senior Demari Simpkins leads the team in catches with 18 and is a solid and steady option out of the slot - he gets looks consistently every game. Jaylen Dixon is a quicker gadget receiver who gets jet sweep and screen game touches.

X-Factor

If it’s obvious, is it really an x-factor? Who cares, because I’m going with Tyler Huntley’s scrambling ability. I am sure Utah will look at Washington’s linebackers and vulnerable run defense and plan to pound the ball. If the Huskies are able to stop the run and keep Utah behind the sticks, they will be forced to pass. It’s not like Washington’s pass defense has been elite either, but it’s the strength of that side of the ball and could cause problems for Utah in a hostile Husky Stadium. But, if Huntley is continually scrambling for yardage when his receivers aren’t open, I am not sure I like that match up of his legs vs. Washington’s front seven.

Conclusion

Overall, the Ludwig hire has been a success. They run the ball down teams throats opening up things downfield Huntley, who loves to hit guys underneath on crossing routes. Ultimately Utah is scoring 33 points per game, though like many teams they can get stuck in the red zone. On thirty-six red zone opportunities this year, they have scored touchdowns 23 times. Not surprisingly, nineteen of those scores are rushing, with just four passing. Much like Oregon, the nature of their offense gives them lots of chances in the red zone - 4.7 per game, which is top ten in the country. They can hit some explosive plays to reach the red zone, too - their .49 points per play is 22nd in the country.

This an ultra efficient offense led by its stars in Huntley and Moss. However, they can be held in check as they were in their one tough road environment at USC. Washington stopping the run and containing Zack Moss is the top priority. If that happens, I don’t know if the receivers are quite good enough to get it done against UW’s secondary. However, stopping Moss will be far from an easy task.

Poll

How many points will Utah score against Washington?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    0-7
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    8-14
    (5 votes)
  • 14%
    15-22
    (49 votes)
  • 36%
    23-28
    (122 votes)
  • 33%
    29-35
    (111 votes)
  • 13%
    35+
    (46 votes)
335 votes total Vote Now