Utah football: Utes are ready to get the show started
Utah running back John White shifted from one foot to another as he fielded questions from reporters recently. It was as if the antsy senior preferred to show just how improved Utah's offense is, rather than standing around and talking about it.
"You're going to see a real explosive offense," he said. "People should be ready."
Utah opens its football season Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (5:15 p.m.) against Northern Colorado, a team that didn't win a game last year under coach Earnest Collins Jr.
But as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has said, this game isn't so much about the opponent as how his own team performs. Whittingham couched it in all usual coach speak, but he might as well have been speaking for fans too, who are eager to see just how good Utah's offense is.
Realistically, the game against the Bears shouldn't be more than a glorified scrimmage for the Utes. But a less-than-stellar opponent might be the best thing for Utah to give its new offense a go.
While fans won't notice a huge difference schematically, new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson plans to open up the attack and employ a lot more variety than the Utes had in 2011.
His goal: get more points on the board than the Utes managed last season when they ranked ninth in the Pac-12 and 74th in the country, putting up a measly 25 points a game.
If the Utes are going to be a Pac-12 contender, they have to produce more than that, Whittingham said. He is confident the Utes have addressed their weaknesses.
"Without a doubt, we are much better in the throw game much more efficient in the pass offense and completion percentage," he said. "We've improved in all of those areas."
Figuring into Utah's offensive plans is more production from the tight ends, more two-back sets and more downfield shots from quarterback Jordan Wynn.
Wynn, who is playing in his first game since suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Washington on Oct. 1, is eager to show off a throwing form he hasn't had since his freshman year.
"Last year, the play-calling was limited by the way I was throwing," he said. "This year, I feel better than I ever have since my freshman year, and we are going to take some shots down the field."
It helps too that Wynn has more playmakers available to him than Jon Hays had last year. John White returns and is expected to shoulder the rushing duties again, but he is backed up by Jarrell Oliver, a rising freshman, and will be joined in the backfield at times by Utah's tight ends.
The Utes also feel their receiving corps is better, with Kenneth Scott, Geoff Norwood and others having a strong camp to supplement the returners.
The one question mark that remains is the ability of the offensive line to protect Wynn. The Utes hope their first few games will give their inexperienced tackles some time to jell before they enter the Pac-12 schedule.
As for the rest of the offense, well, they are ready to go, Wynn said.
"It doesn't matter who the opponent is," he said. "We want to start fast and set the tone for the rest of the season. We want to come out and perform well. We don't want any slow starts or anything like that."
Northern Colorado at Utah
P At Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff • 5:15 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Series history • Utah leads 2-0
Last meeting • Utah 7, Northern Colorado 6 (1937)
About the Utes • The Utes return 18 starters and 55 lettermen from last year's 8-5 team. â¦ Kyle Whittingham is 66-25 entering his eighth season as Utah's head coach. â¦ The only position in which the Utes don't have a returning starter is at offensive tackle. â¦ Utah is 34-0 against current Big Sky schools.
About the Bears • The Bears return eight starters on offense and five starters on defense. â¦ Quarterback Seth Lobato threw for 2,448 yards, the seventh-best total in school history, in 2011. â¦ Senior return specialist Dominic Gunn holds the school single season and career kickoff return yardage records and needs just 101 punt return yards to tie receivers coach Keith Grable (1996-99) for sixth on the career chart. â¦ The Bears are coached by Earnest Collins Jr.