New offense key to success for 2017 Utah Utes
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s success this season will likely largely be determined by the play of the offense in new coordinator Troy Taylor’s fast-paced, pass-first system. And the progress of that scheme will rely heavily on the play of newcomer Darren Carrington and the rest of the receiving corps.
Coach Kyle Whittingham hasn’t been shy about saying the next step for his program is to improve the “throw game” after winning nine games twice and 10 once in the last three seasons. The Utes haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Dres Anderson in 2013.
The Utah program has built a reputation for having a punishing running game but has never had a pass offense ranked higher than No. 9 in the Pac-12 since joining the conference in 2011. Three times it has ranked dead last.
The Utes hope to see that change under Taylor, whose influences include Mike Leach, Chris Petersen, Chip Kelly and Bill Walsh. With Taylor as co-coordinator in 2016, Eastern Washington led the FCS with 401.0 passing yards per game, ranked No. 2 in total offense (529.6) and No. 3 in scoring offense (42.4 points per game).
At Utah, his options at quarterback include senior Troy Williams, who started all 13 games last season, and athletic sophomore Tyler Huntley, who is pushing for playing time.
Meantime, Carrington comes to Utah as a transfer from Oregon as the most experienced and successful receiver on the roster. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound San Diego native had 43 catches for 606 yards and five touchdowns last season as a junior with the Ducks. He has 112 career receptions for 1,919 yards and 15 touchdowns. Oregon coach Willie Taggart dismissed Carrington from the team earlier this year after a DUI arrest.
“A fearless competitor,” Taylor said. “I’ve seen a kid who’s just been a great teammate. He’s a talented guy. He’s just got a great confidence level. He creates separation. He’s got big hands, huge hands. Incredible ball skills. He’s a special guy.”
Carrington will need help, though. There are high expectations for sophomore Siasoi Wilson (6-foot-2, 193 pounds), junior Raelon Singleton (6-3, 212) and sophomore Demari Simpkins (5-10, 181), but they all need to be consistent on game day.
“The glaring difference is the number of athletes we have at wide receiver,” defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. “Those guys, the thing that Troy and (receivers coach Guy Holliday) are looking for is consistency catching the football. They look like a bunch of athletes, I’ll tell you that, when we do one-on-one drills.”
Here are other things to watch for from Utah this season:
ROUGH START: All-Pac-12 honorable mention Chase Hansen has yet to practice in fall camp and is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. The starting strong safety led the team with 90 tackles last season and is the only returning starter in the secondary.
CORNERSTONE DEFENSE: Utah’s defense remains the foundation of the program. The traditionally stout defensive line should remain so with DT Lowell Lotulelei, DT Filipo Mokofisi and DE Kylie Fitts. The defensive backfield is inexperienced but talented. Junior college transfer safety Corrion Ballard and freshman cornerback Jaylon Johnson were highly ranked recruits. Whittingham believes the defensive backfield can be better than last year’s, which featured two players who were drafted by NFL teams and two others who signed with teams as undrafted free agents.
KEY GAMES: Utah hosts North Dakota in the season opener on Aug. 31. The Utes travel to face BYU in the school’s biggest rivalry game on Sept. 9. The Utes have their most difficult two-week stretch when they host Stanford on Oct. 7 before traveling Oct. 14 to meet quarterback Sam Darnold and a USC team that could contend for a national title. Utah must travel to play North division favorite Washington and the reigning Pac-12 offensive player of the year Jake Browning (Nov. 18) and host two of the nation’s best quarterbacks in UCLA’s Josh Rosen (Nov. 3) and Washington State’s Luke Falk (Nov. 11).
PREDICTION: Utah should be looking at another nine-win season. But it will be a challenge for the Utes to reach 10 wins or play in the conference championship game for the first time in school history.