Utah's football team might have missed out on its goal of reaching the Pac-12 championship game, but turning a poor start into a respectable season, capped off with a bowl win, has the Utes calling 2011 a success.
At least now, after an 8-5 year that ended with an overtime win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, the Utes have a better idea of what they need to do to compete in a BCS league.
"We had a good start," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But we have to continue to do everything better. John White rushing for more than 1,500 yards and setting a single-season record was one of the highlights, the defense played well all season long and the special teams were a strong suit, so I feel like it was a good start."
Whittingham didn't mention the offense in his quick summary of 2011, probably because the offense remains the most evolving area of the team.
The Utes went to a more run-oriented scheme after quarterback Jordan Wynn suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the fourth game of the year, but Whittingham would like to get back to a more balanced offense in 2012.
"We did what we needed to do to win," Whittingham said. "But ultimately you do want a more balanced offense."
First though, he has to find a coordinator to put the offense in place.
Whittingham said he will continue to take his time and said he has more than 70 applicants. He will wait until he hires a coordinator to find a replacement for Dave Schramm, the running backs coach who has joined Fresno State's coaching staff as offensive coordinator.
"I'd like [the new coordinator] to have some latitude of who he wants to bring in that open spot," Whittingham said of the opening created by Schramm's departure. "Dave did a great job for us and we wish him well. He got a chance to coordinate again, which is in his best interest, so we support that."
Wynn is expected to participate in spring practice, but his return could be overshadowed by what could be an extremely competitive battle at running back.
Not only do the Utes return White, who set a school record by rushing for 1,519 yards, but have signed Kelvin York, a running back out of Fullerton College who originally committed to USC but signed with the Utes after USC cooled on him following a knee injury.
Whittingham said he hasn't decided how the Utes will use both White and York, only that they need to find a way to get the best players on the field.
"We ran a lot with Shawn Asiata as a fullback, although the way he plays he was more like an offensive guard because he was such a physical blocker and presence in the backfield," Whittingham said. "But [York] was highly sought after and he'll add a great deal to the run game."
Encouraging to Whittingham was the way the Utes finished the year. Losing to Colorado squashed the Utes' hopes of reaching the Pac-12 title game, but knowing his team was so close to that goal made Whittingham believe the Utes are on the right track.
To continue on that path, Whittingham said the Utes will continue to recruit offensive and defensive linemen and corners to shore up positions in which the Utes graduate some of their key players, including offensive linemen John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom.
A lack of depth along the offensive line hurt the Utes at times this year when several players were injured, but Whittingham believes the depth issues can be solved through recruiting.
As for 2012, the goal is the same as it was this year.
"It's always our objective to win our division," Whittingham said. "We have a lot of players coming back and we're excited to compete."
2011 in review
Date Opponent Result Comment
Sept. 1 Montana St. W 27-10 Utes' offense doesn't have a great debut with Whittingham calling it "abysmal"
Sept. 10 at USC L 23-14 A 41-yard field goal attempt by the Utes that could have sent the game into overtime is blocked
Sept. 17 at BYU W 54-10 Utes force seven turnovers in their most lopsided win in the rivalry in 89 years
Oct. 1 Washington L 31-14 QB Jordan Wynn suffers a season-ending shoulder injury
Oct. 8 Arizona St. L 35-14 Utah turned the ball over on three straight possessions, leading to a blowout loss
Oct. 15 at Pittsburgh W 26-14 John White rushes 36 times for 171 yards, proving he has the durability to carry the offense
Oct. 22 at California L 34-10 Following the embarrassing loss, coach Kyle Whittingham holds team meeting with juniors and seniors
Oct. 29 Oregon St. W 27-8 A newly energized team scores its first Pac-12 win
Nov. 5 at Arizona W 34-21 Utes used three takeaways to help score a road victory
Nov. 12 UCLA W 31-6 Bruins are denied a touchdown as the defense once again comes up big in a win
Nov. 19 at Washington St. W 30-27 (OT) Mo Lee intercepted two passes and Coleman Petersen kicked the game-winner from 38 yards out
Nov. 25 Colorado L 17-14 Win could have put the Utes in the Pac-12 championship game
Dec. 31 Georgia Tech W 30-27 (OT) White sets a school record in rushing and scores the winning touchdown
Feb. 1 • Signing day
March 20 • Spring practice begins
April 21 • Spring game
Key players lost • Offensive linemen John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom graduate as does fullback Shawn Asiata, perhaps one of the most underestimated offensive players in 2011.
Key players returning • The Utes return quarterback Jordan Wynn, running back John White and should return all of their top receivers, including DeVonte Christopher and Reggie Dunn.
Key players incoming • Running back Kelvin York, who already has signed with the Utes, could be an impact player. Quarterback Travis Wilson could be another good get for the Utes if he follows through with his commitment and signs with Utah.
Key players lost • Defensive ends Derrick Shelby and Tevita Finau are gone, as are linebackers Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker and cornerback Conroy Black.
Key players returning • The Utes believe they are still deep at linebacker with V.J. Fehoko and Jacoby Hale growing into their roles while freshman Nate Fakahafua is versatile enough to play linebacker and defensive end. Star Lotulelei and Kruger brothers Dave and Joe anchor the line again.
Key players incoming • Defensive end Koliniasi Leota out of Mount San Antonio has signed and could be an impact player along with teammate Visesio Salt.