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Utah football: Whittingham puts pressure on offense on Day 1

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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's Brian Blechen talks with the media following football practice on the baseball field on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, Utah Monday August 5, 2013.

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 05 2013 02:57PM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:31PM

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.

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