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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utah football: How much can the Utes improve?

Utah running back John White said during Monday's press conference the Utes need to get things turned around quicker than they did a year ago, when they started 0-4 in conference play.

But can they do that?

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I'm doubtful. Not only do the Utes have a challenging schedule ahead with the home game against USC followed by road games at UCLA and Oregon State, but I think the Utes are in more trouble this year than they were last year.

Last year there was an overall feeling the Utes had the talent, but suffered a setback when Jordan Wynn was hurt and Jon Hays was learning the offense on the job.

At least then he had a good offensive line to protect him. He also had a very good defense which bailed out the Utes time and again.

This year, things look a little more worrisome. The Utes' offensive line might eventually evolve into a very good line, but the players are young and inexperienced. Complicating matters are injuries that have left the Utes with few options.

In some respects it's probably good Hays is at quarterback because he is a better scrambler and can take more hits than Wynn could. However, he has to have at least a little time to let plays develop, but he didn't get much against ASU. Don't expect things to get much easier against USC either, particularly if guard Vyncent Jones, who injured his right knee against ASU, can't play.

The other reason to worry? Utah's defense so far has played below expectations. As lineman Dave Kruger said after the ASU loss, that wasn't a Kyle Whittingham defense. The Utes did better in the second half, giving up just a touchdown, so hopefully for Utah fans that is a sign of things to come.

Still, the linebacking unit and secondary are young and as they showed against ASU they are going to make mistakes. Goofing up against Northern Colorado is one thing, but against USC and the other teams ahead? Utah's defense can't afford to put the offense behind if the Utes want to win.

Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake hasn't ruled out using Brian Blechen some at linebacker, which could shake some things up, but look for the Utes to tweak the lineup elsewhere too.

Junior linebacker Victor Spikes and sophomore V.J. Fehoko are two guys the Utes were extremely excited to sign and two the Utes thought would contribute sooner rather than later. Now would be a good time for the two to step up, otherwise the Utes could be in for a really, really long season.

- Lya Wodraska

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