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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's adjustment to Pac-12 includes both players and coaches

A lot of Utah fans are probably wondering what is wrong with their football team. How can the Utes, picked to finish second in the south division, be struggling so much?

There are several themes in play.

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First of all, last year's unpredictable finish in which the Utes had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl despite an 0-4 mark to start league play gave many a false sense of security and hope. Winning games in a BCS league is hard stuff as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has noted several times.

Last year the league was down and USC's ineligibility cleared the way for a 4-5 team like Utah to have hope.

This year it is game on with new coaches and new talent making the league decidedly better.

Complicating matters is Utah not only must make up for some talent deficits and youth as it tries to recruit to Pac-12 standards, but also a young coaching staff, particularly with offensive coordinator Brian Johnson's hire.

Here is where things get tricky for Whittingham, who has always preached a "do what you can to win now," attitude on the field when it comes to deciding who plays, even if such a decision means burning a guy's redshirt year.

However, I don't know if Whittingham took that same stance in hiring Johnson, who had just two seasons worth of experience as a quarterbacks coach before he was promoted to coordinator.

Surely most expected a break-in period as Johnson learned the nuances of being an OC on the job, without much mentoring. It looks like that is what we are getting as Johnson is being put to the test by savvy head coaches and defensive coordinators with many more years of coaching experience than he has.

Making scheme adjustments and personnel decisions on the fly come naturally to guys like ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph (former assistant at Pitt, Tulsa, Rice, Alabama), USC's Ed Orgeron (former head coach at Ole Miss) and UCLA's Lou Spanos (17 years of NFL experience) while Johnson probably is still learning his way around the press boxes.

This isn't to say that Johnson can't be a great coordinator. As Whittingham has said, Johnson is a very smart, driven and natural leader.

Whittingham has always reasoned that Jonson's youth wasn't a negative when he hired him because he was mature beyond his years. Nevertheless, experience counts for something, whether its in a player or a coach.

Asking a young guy to develop his own offensive philosophy while developing young talent while the Utes try to close the gap on established Pac-12 teams that are improving themselves is a huge, monumental task.

As Whittingham said, adjusting to the Pac-12 is going to be a multi-year process. That process doesn't include only the players, but the coaches too.

- Lya Wodraska



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