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Five Questions With Utah's BlockU | August


Sean of the Utah blog BlockU and I have been anxiously counting down to the begning of the season on Twitter.  He was kind enough to answer some of my questions on the Utes.  I'll link my responses to his questions when he posts them.

1. For the better part of the decade, Utah has been one of the consistently outstanding programs in college football - without the luxury of an automatic BCS bid.  How has Kyle Whittingham been able to sustain the success of Urban Myer?

It wasn't easy, that's for sure. Urban Meyer is a great coach, but he didn't recruit very well here at Utah. Well that's not completely fair, since he wasn't here long enough to really alter the dynamics of recruiting. It also didn't help that most of Meyer's best players from the 2004 team either graduated or left for the NFL early. Alex Smith and Steve Savoy could have come back for another season, but ultimately opted to ride the undefeated season to primo spots in the NFL Draft. For Smith, it was the right move - he was selected number one overall.

So Whittingham took over a program that didn't necessarily recruit for 2005 - since there was no need with the potential of all the talent returning, specifically on the offensive side and in the end, watched as that talent left for the pros. So there was a considerable drop-off from 2004 to 2005 and it showed, as Utah went from 12-0 to 7-5. 2006 was the last season before Whittingham really started stacking the cupboards again with great talent. It was also the last really mediocre season he's had at Utah. Since, his teams have gone: 9-4, 13-0 and 10-3. The best three year stretch in program history.

It took a bit longer than most fans had hoped or expected and there were certainly growing pains along the way, but I don't think we knew fully how much talent the program lacked when Whittingham took over. You take away all the players from what made Meyer's teams so special and you're back to a team with talent that is more befitting of the pre-Meyer days. Over time, though, Whittingham has been able to upgrade the talent across the board and because of that, he's kept what Meyer built rolling along quite nicely.

2. There's been some concern in the media out here about defending the spread, and specifically, how versatile Utah's offense is.  What sort of formations should Pitt fans be on the lookout for?

The Utes aren't a typical spread option team. They certainly do not run it in its most purist form like maybe when Meyer was here in 2003 and 2004. Now it's a bit more diverse. They throw out a lot of looks that aren't necessarily identified with the spread. But the overall tendencies are unmistakably spread - if that makes sense.

Utah loves to run the what will be called the Asiata package. It's essentially the Wildcat, but used namely with Matt Asiata - who was taken out due to injury three and a half games into the 2009 season. You line him up as the quarterback and he'll either run it, or pass it. Utah's second touchdown in the 2009 Sugar Bowl came via this play and they had a huge score against BYU that same season where he passed to the back of the end zone.

The coaches also have discussed opening up the tight ends a bit more due to the success we had utilizing them in the Poinsettia Bowl against Cal. Another new wrinkle I expect, based on the Poinsettia Bowl (and it isn't new in the sense of the program, but rather the coaching staff) is the Utah Pass. Now that's its term out here in Utah because it was popularized by the Utes many moons ago. That came under the reign of former Utah head coach Cactus Jack Curtice and quarterback Lee Grosscup. The play is better known as the shovel pass - but its origins are here in Salt Lake. That play was ripped out of the Utah playbook under subsequent coaches and finally brought back when Meyer took over. Whittingham's teams went away from it, but it was successful against Cal and I anticipate they'll probably do it more this season.

How much more or whether it'll even happen in the Pitt game is unknown. But it's a fun little play that can net a ton of yards if not defended right.

3. Quarterback Jordan Wynn took over for the final 1/3 of last season and put up solid numbers as a freshmen (1329 yds, 8 TDs, 4 INTs). What are the exceptions for Wynn as he enters his first season as the starter?

Jordan Wynn has high expectations based on his performance toward the end of the season. But we're reasonable fans who understand he's only making his sixth start. There are going to be ups and downs. Thankfully, I think what makes Wynn special is his ability to handle the instability of being a young quarterback. He rarely appeared to play badly enough to hurt the Utes. His worst game was against BYU and he actually looked pretty good until getting hit on the first drive of the game. After that, he really wasn't the same. So we expect growing pains, but he seems to be the type of quarterback who can overcome that by not putting himself in bad situations that could ultimately lead to a big turnover by the offense.

4.  Ok, enough offense. What should we expect from Utah's defense?

The defense is young. They haven't had to replace this many players since the 2005 season. That's a concern. The good news for Utah is their head coach has long established himself as one of the best defensive minds in the game. He was Utah's defensive coordinator from 1995 to 2004 when he took over the program. Since becoming head coach, his defenses have rarely produced bad results. 2005 was the weakest season and as I explained earlier, there were varying situations for that.

The defensive line is probably the most experienced aspect of the defense. They bring back a great deal of talent there and Utah has historically been very good at stopping the run. It is true, though, they were inconsistent last year, allowing TCU, Oregon and Air Force to run all over them. That's obviously a concern, but overall, most Ute fans feel this could be the strongest part of the defense and more consistency is expected.

The secondary is where we'll see a great deal of change. But Whittingham has recruited well here, especially with speed and athleticism. Of course, much of it is raw and with untested talent, you can expect a few mistakes.
Hopefully the fact Pitt is breaking in a new quarterback lowers the chances for those mistakes.

5. With Utah moving on to the greener pastures of the Pac-10(12), is there any chance the Utah-BYU series continues? I'd hate to see college football lose another great rivalry a la Pitt-Penn State.

I'd say it's very likely to continue. I'm not sure it will happen next year due to potential scheduling conflicts, but it will continue. There is just too much money locally for it not to happen. It's always BYU's biggest home game and it's always going to be Utah's biggest home game - well for a while, anyway. It'll be interesting to see how the rivalry changes now that Utah is moving on to the BCS.

The move, though, couldn't have happened at a better time for the rivalry. It was getting way too nasty over the past few years and this potential break could calm things down. Last year, Max Hall, BYU's quarterback, went on an epic rant about how he hated the Utes and the whole University. Coach Whittingham's wife was apparently smacked by a BYU fan at last year's game and Hall accused Ute fans of dumping beer on his family in 2008 in Salt Lake City. So you can see it's very heated. Hopefully things cool off now that so much won't be on the line anymore.
But we'll see.

Thanks, Sean.