Utah kicks off Pac-12 era tonight
Utah's new offense is a little bit like the latest new gadget it looks all nice and shiny and comes with a ton of features, but you never know how well it's going to work until you get it out of the box and use it.
Good thing the Utes have Montana State to use as a test subject.
The Utes will never say it publicly, but anyone with common sense knows the last teams you'd want to debut a new offense against would be USC and BYU, two of the biggest games on Utah's 2011 schedule and the two opponents who just happen to come up after MSU on the Utes' calendar.
No, it's a far better situation for the Utes to see just what their new toy can do against the Bobcats, a team that has never beaten the Utes in nine attempts and has been shut out in six of those contests.
Call it the season opener or call it a dress rehearsal, Thursday's game is an ideal situation for the Utes just the same.
Utah, which has opened up against Pitt, Michigan, Oregon State and in-state rival Utah State in recent seasons, should be able to handle the Bobcats easily, even if its new offense isn't running smoothly.
That scenario might be just what the Utes need, since they were only sporadically happy with the offense during preseason practice. Quarterback Jordan Wynn was limited in his throws, then missed several practices because of illness.
Wynn is healthy now and says he is all caught up, but the offensive line can't say the same with starters John Cullen and Sam Brenner, and key backups Isaac Asiata and Latu Heimuli all missing practices because of injuries leaving Utah with a pieced-together line.
Brenner and left guard Vyncent Jones will be making their first starts for the Utes, as will running back John White.
They've looked good in practice, but as Wynn acknowledged, playing a game is different from going up against your teammates.
"You see what happens when the lights come on," Wynn said. "You see which guys are making plays, but the coaches did a good job of making our practices and scrimmages so game-like, it shouldn't be much of a transition."
In Wynn's mind, the biggest transition already has been made, with new offensive coordinator Norm Chow tossing out Utah's spread offense for a more pro-style look.
Out are the plays designed for a running quarterback. In are more plays centered around the ground game, more play-action passing for Wynn and bigger roles for Utah's fullbacks and tight ends.
Winning the game is obviously the priority, but after that, it's seeing how the elements work together, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
"We want to execute the offense in clean fashion," he said. "We don't need to score 60 points, that is not what it is about. Our plan is to win, control the football, not turn it over, move the chains. That is what we are after."
The biggest hitch in that plan could be that Utah offensive line, which saw a new lineup almost every day due to injuries.
"We would have liked to have had more continuity," Whittingham said. "Every day was a different lineup, juggling and shuffling guys in.
"No doubt, the offensive line and the secondary are the most critical areas where the players have to work together most as a position, so it's a big concern. We've lacked that continuity all fall camp, and you have to develop that."
The Utes are out of time. Now, it's showtime.
"We're definitely excited," fullback Luke Matthews said. "We're ready to go, and we can't wait to get out on the field and prove it."
Montana State at Utah
P Thursday, 6 p.m. TV • KJZZ Radio • 700 AM
Records • Season opener for both
Series history • Utah leads 9-0
Last meeting • Utah, 30-12 (Sept. 4, 1982)
About the Utes • Utah is 31-0 against Big Sky teams, including nine wins against the Bobcats. â¦ The battle for the kicking role was the only unsettled spot following camp. Neither Nick Marsh nor walk-on Coleman Petersen have kicked a field goal in a game. â¦ Jordan Wynn is 11-4 as a starter. â¦ Defender Nai Fotu will not play in the game as he serves a one-game suspension for being arrested for a DUI in February.
About the Bobcats • MSU hasn't won an opener on the road since a 19-10 win at Colorado in 2006. â¦ Quarterback DeNarius McGhee was the Big Sky Offensive co-MVP last year after leading the conference in passing, averaging 263.6 passing yards a game. â¦ Coach Rob Ash is 29-17 in his four years at the school.