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Utah football: Whittingham puts pressure on offense on Day 1

Published August 6, 2013 9:35 am

College football • Utes hope faster tempo will help them avoid slow starts in 2013.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If Utah's offense wasn't feeling pressure to improve from its meager performance in 2012, it surely is now.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wasted little time in tightening the pressure on the Utes, telling his team before camp opened Monday they didn't have to work hard — if they wanted to be 5-7 again.

Unfortunately, he had to remind the Utes of their 2012 record later in the session, too, as he urged them to pick up their efforts and pace.

"It has to be that way from the beginning," Whittingham said. "If you start slow in a game, you will be down 21-0 before you know it."

No doubt Whittingham's criticism was carefully couched to keep the fire hot. For a team that ranked just eighth in the Pac-12 averaging just 26.7 points a game and managed only 66 plays a game, a faster tempo will certainly be the theme of preseason camp.

Utah co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson said the Utes will continue the tweaks they started in the spring with a lot of no-huddle, fast-tempo offense.

In essence, it's a modern version of the offense Utah ran in 2008 when Brian Johnson led the Utes to an undefeated season.

The Utes have a more inexperienced quarterback this time around in sophomore Travis Wilson — Johnson was a senior in that breakthrough year. And the schedule is substantially tougher, but it is a look the Utes believe will be successful in the offensive-minded world of the Pac-12.

"It's one of the reasons they hired me," Erickson said. "I came in with the idea of running tempo, no huddle, spread them out offense. It's not going to be like Oregon, like that fast, but we are going to do a lot of things at the scrimmage with different position groups. We'll use two tight ends, four wides, three tight ends, one tight end — different formations all doing the same things."

As for the guy in charge of leading that offense, Wilson said he is ready to take command.

As Jordan Wynn's replacement when he was forced to retire due to injury, Wilson had to learn on the job last year and went 3-4 in his seven starts. Now, with a season and a spring behind him, Wilson said the game has slowed down for him, even as the Utes are trying to pick things up.

"We definitely feel we have something to prove as an offense," he said. "We want to be one of those dominating offenses that scores every series and put big points on the board."

Wilson said he watched a lot of Oregon's games growing up in California, and like Erickson, believes the Ducks set a standard of which the Utes can aim. Oregon has averaged 46 points or more the last three seasons.

Even getting into that ballpark is asking a lot, but Wilson believes the combination of an improved offensive line, a deep group of running backs and his own experience can help the Utes improve.

"We can't have a lot of dumb penalties like fast starts and things like that, but we have to get our toes up to the line and play fast," he said.

If they don't, the Utes can be certain Whittingham will be the first to let them know about it. —

Camp Corner Day 1

What we learned • Just as in spring, Utah will emphasize an up-tempo offense with a lot of varied looks.

Who stood out • The quarterbacks, freshman running back Troy McCormick and lineman Siaosi Aiono all had strong efforts according to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

Who was missing • Salesi Uhatafe, who was involved in the same car wreck that killed incoming freshman Gaius Vaenuku, remains at home but is expected to join the team next week.