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Opponent Offense Preview: Utah Utes

A banged up but physical Utah offense rolls into Husky Stadium as Washington looks to go 10-0.

Arizona State v Utah Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

The Players

With QB Cam Rising officially shut down for the season, the Utes turned to the combination of QBs Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson, though they have mostly settled on Barnes as the guy. Johnson pretty much hasn’t played since September, but did get in this past weekend against Arizona State and took two designed QB runs for 79 yards and a touchdown. Barnes will likely take the majority of snaps against UW, and on the season (playing most of 7 games), he’s thrown for 930 yards (6.4 YPA), 8 TDs, and 5 interceptions, while completing 59% of his passes. He also has a time-to-throw average longer than USC’s Caleb Williams, and suffice it to say he’s not quite the same level of scrambler as Williams. So overall, not great. He’s a former walk-on who grew up on his parents pig farm in Milford, Utah, which I’m sure the announcers won’t let you forget.

At running back the top option is RB Ja’Quinden Jackson, a former QB himself turned bruising running back. The 6-2, 228 sophomore has 112 carries for 598 (5.3 YPC) yards and two touchdowns this year. He’s got good feet to pick his way through traffic and uses his physical running style between the tackles, reading blocks well. However, he has been on and off injured most of the season and may have hurt his ankle against Arizona State, so his status is in question against UW. His back up is the 5-8 Jaylon Glover who is also a physical between the tackles type, with 358 yards and 2 touchdowns on 94 carries this year.

The number one target currently is the is the 6-5 junior WR Devaughn Vele, who almost exclusively lines up out wide. He’s a physical receiver prospect with good route running and is leading the team in yards (337) and receptions (29). WR Money Parks is the big play/catch and run threat though he’s only averaging 10.6 YPC on his 23 receptions, mostly due to quarterback limitations. But, he did score a 70 touchdown reception on Utah’s first offensive play of the season so he does have it in him. Lastly, there is 5-8 freshman WR Mikey Matthews, who largely operates out of the slot. His average target depth is just 4.4 yards, but he’s been a consistent quick catch player with at least one catch in every game this season (25 catches for 229 yards total so far).

Utah likes to get the tight ends involved, and two main targets are TE Landen King and TE Thomas Yassmin. King has 3 touchdowns on just 7 receptions.

Utah v USC Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Of course, S/RB Sioni Vaki deserves a shoutout. Beginning the season at safety, he debuted as a running back against Cal and USC as the Utah offense was looking for answers. In those games, he looked like Utah’s best offensive weapon by a mile. Against Oregon, he was barely used and largely ineffective, but so was the rest of Utah’s offense. Then he didn’t see a single offensive snap last week against ASU. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s very fast and can change directions quickly. He’s averaging over 8 yards per carry on his 30 runs, and has a long of 72. He’s also scored 2 touchdowns on just six receptions and has a 53 yard catch to his name. What his role will be against Washington is anyone’s guess.

The Scheme

In typical Utah fashion, this is physical running team, opting to keep the ball on the ground around 61% of the time. Also in typical Utah fashion, chunk pass plays downfield have been an issue all season - Barnes has only four passes of 20+ yards. More than 60% of his attempts are behind the LOS or in the 0-9 yard range, so this isn’t an offense that tests teams deep, and would prefer to efficiently work their way up the field and compliment their run game. They don’t target the outside much and prefer to work the middle of the field - pass catchers on the perimeter are not targeted all that often.

Running the ball, we can expect to see a healthy dose of the zone read and neither QB is afraid to run - Barnes has 49 rush attempts this year (184 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Johnson has 58 (232 yards, 4 TDs). Surprise, Utah has a physical offensive line which opens things up for them. They aren’t afraid to bring in two or three tight ends, line the QB up under center, and run plays behind pulling guards and tackles.

The End

Some of the best Utah’s offense has looked all season is when they’ve gone uptempo/no huddle. Oregon pretty much shut them down completely the entire game, but Utah’s most successful drive of the game was uptempo, when Barnes was allowed to get into rhythm as a passer. They curiously didn’t stick with the fast paced offense, perhaps wanting to play possession and keep the ball away from Oregon and QB Bo Nix. It came back at times against Arizona State last week and the Utes poured 55 on the Sun Devils. They went tempo early and jumped out to a 14-0 lead.

I imagine we’ll see some doses of the fast paced offense from Utah, but even with the strength of the team on defense, they will probably want to keep the ball away from Michael Penix Jr. and minimize UW possessions, even at the expense of scoring quickly (or scoring at all). We could also see some zone read with QB Nate Johnson in the game, to take advantage of UW’s run defense. But all in all, this an offense averaging just 25 points per game and their relative strength - the run game - is not even generating 200 yards per game, and is 94th in EPA per rush.