Moving forward into their second year, Utah looks to avoid the Sophomore slump and improve upon the small successes they were able to achieve in the “Conference of Champions” in 2011.
Utah had the #1 rush defense in the conference and one of the best overall defenses as well.
Utah has always been adept in turning pure athletes into defensive stars, no matter what position they played. Because of this ability, the Utes defense has rarely been a cause for concern heading into spring practice.
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake has decided to stay on with the Utes in 2012 and is very excited about the outlook next season.
The offensive side of the ball, however, is an area where question marks can be found.
Unlike the 2011 season, Utah has an established running back in John White IV and hopeful up-and-comers in Harvey Langi (freshman last season) and newly recruited Kelvin York (who many expect will take the #2 spot behind White).
Utah has an array of receivers that are expected to play well this upcoming season, including Luke Matthews, DeVonte Christopher, Reggie Dunn (all of whom will be Seniors) and Dres Anderson (entering his Sophomore year).
Some of the bigger questions facing the Utes offense in 2012 will be who plays at quarterback, how the offensive line will play, and how the play calling from new hire Brian Johnson will be.
The QB position at Utah has been a common concern year in and out, it seems. This year is no different.
Ute fans for the most part have confidence that Jordan Wynn can succeed, but are less than comfortable answering the question of “will he succeed?”
Wynn has faced many issues throughout his career at Utah from being thrown to the wolves to start the second half of the Utes “blackout” game against Wyoming Oct. 31, 2009, to all the issues he’s had with injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Wynn is currently said to be in great health, according to an interview from Head Coach Kyle Whittingham on signing day Feb. 2, 2012, and has full throwing motion.
The offensive line played very well last season, opening holes time and time again for RB John White IV, helping him to become the 2nd leading rusher in the PAC-12 behind 2010 Heisman finalist LaMichael James and ahead of the University of Washington’s Chris Polk, who is projected to be drafted as high as the first or second round of the NFL draft (spectacular for 3rd best RB in a conference).
Once you get past the QB concerns and the OL concerns, you’re left with what I think is the number one unanswered question for the Utes and that is this: How will Brian Johnson fare in his first season as an offensive coordinator?
The jury, I believe, will be out on this issue until the midway point of the season so it’s one that irks the most.
All that can be done is to wait, watch and see.
Brian Johnson has so many things going for him that there is every opportunity for him to succeed and only a few areas where concern is warranted.
The most valuable thing Johnson has going for him is Coach Whittingham’s trust. He has earned it.
In 2008, Johnson was placed in situations where he alone made choices that turned the tables in Utah’s favor, where a mistake to the smallest degree could have proven disastrous and monumentally changed the pathway of that magical season.
Johnson, just in this Utah system alone, has been under the mentoring and tutelage of Coaches Urban Meyer (.819 win percentage and 2 National Championships), Norm Chow (coached 4 Heisman Trophy winners) and Kyle Whittingham (7-1 bowl game record).
The glaring concern with Johnson is his age – 25 (as of a Feb. 16).
For many, Johnson being so young and “inexperienced” are cause for worry but being 25 myself, I say “Great!”
Johnson has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to life milestones. He entered the University of Utah as a 17 year old kid and he played as a freshman behind Alex Smith. He became the quarterbacks coach at the age of 23.
Johnson’s age actually makes him more dangerous as a recruiter because he can connect with the players on a level that 40, 50 and especially 60-year-old+ coaches just cannot.
Johnson played in front of 75,000+ screaming fans in the loudest NFL arena, the Superdome, just a shade over 3 years ago. It’s highly doubtful that pressure wasn’t far worse than coaching a few plays from the booth.
The Utes have shown that they can scrape an 8-5 record with a PAC-12 schedule while missing a starting quarterback, and sketchy special teams play.
It’s difficult to call the Utes’ special team a question because the answer is clear. It needs a makeover badly.
- Brian Johnson Takes Over Utah Offense Three Years After Playing Career Ended (sbnation.com)
- Former QB Brian Johnson Named Utah Coordinator At 24 Years Old (sbnation.com)
- In Whit I Trust (tornbysports.com)