Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who prides himself on his grammar, used some colorful words, including abysmal, deplorable and debacle, to describe his team’s shortcomings this year.
But the best word that describes Utah’s disappointing season is inconsistency.
5 inconsistencies that hurt the Utes in 2012
1. No offensive identity. The Utes’ offensive abilities were complicated by having an inexperienced coordinator working with an inexperienced offense. The Utes used three quarterbacks and went through several different evolutions as an offense this year.
There is a popular saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” That philosophy exemplified Utah’s offense this year as it never seemed to know what it wanted to be.
2. We all knew Utah’s offensive line was suspect, and a season-ending injury to Marc Pouvave (Achilles tendon), an out-of-condition newcomer in Carlos Lozano and a slow start for returner Miles Mason revealed Utah’s lack of depth. The Utes must find some depth here so when injuries do occur, there isn’t a drop-off like the Utes had earlier this season.
3. Utah’s defense had trouble on the edges, which was a glaring deficit in the loss to Arizona. The Utes pride themselves on being able to play players such as Trevor Reilly and Brian Blechen in different positions, but one has to wonder if that versatility didn’t hurt the Utes when it came to developing consistency and chemistry.
4. Too inconsistent in the playcalling. Particularly early in the season, Utah’s playcalling was scattered. The Utes all but forgot about the run in some games and had trouble adjusting to defenses. Utah did a better job once the playbook was slimmed down, but it still is far from being a smooth machine.
5. Utah’s secondary had miscommunications and breakdowns all year. Saturday’s win over Colorado highlighted the issue as time and again Colorado was able to move the ball on the Utes.
From the coaching to the schemes to the lineups, inconsistency proved to be the common theme that led to Utah’s worst season in 10 years.
Where did it all go wrong? Let’s start with the hiring of 25-year-old Brian Johnson as offensive coordinator.
Johnson might grow into being an outstanding coordinator, but with just two years of experience as a quarterbacks coach, he wasn’t ready to be an offensive coordinator in the Pac-12, where he was coaching against guys with many more years of experience.
Johnson never really gave a clear answer when asked on several occasions before the season about his offensive philosophy. He always said he’d do what it takes to "utilize players to the best of their abilities."
Johnson was vague, and so was the offense. The Utes tried a hodgepodge of tactics that resulted only in miscommunications and mistakes. The situation was complicated more when Jordan Wynn suffered his career-ending injury against Utah State. Senior backup Jon Hays started the next three games before the Utes turned to freshman Travis Wilson.
Along the way, the Utes continued to change their emphasis until they finally shelved many of their formations and went with a slimmed-down version that Wilson could handle better.
The Utes also returned to the run game that was ineffective early in the season. Senior John White struggled early and backup Kelvin York showed he might be the better option, but just when the Utes decided to give York an equal number of carries as White, he went down with an ankle sprain against Cal.
Also suffering a season-ending injury was freshman Jarrell Oliver.
The Utes might have overcome some of the shortcomings at quarterback and in the run game if they had a veteran line. However, injuries and youth forced the Utes to use four different lineups. The line struggled, particularly early in the season when it gave up 11 sacks in the first four games.
When Utah’s quarterbacks did have time to throw the ball, the receivers were inconsistent, dropping balls left and right. For all the talk of their big-play capability, the Utes never really had a guy emerge in this area outside of tight end Jake Murphy.
Dres Anderson, DeVonte Christopher and Kenneth Scott all had their moments, but they had their share of struggles as well.
Overall, Utah’s offense matched exactly what Johnson said his offense was going to be, with a little of this and a little of that. The problem was a little here and there never amounted to much.
Defensively, Utah’s inconsistency had more to do with youth than coaching philosophies. The Utes used eight different lineups in the linebacking corps and seven different lineups in the secondary. Injuries and a search for the right combination of players led to numerous changes and adjustments.
Safety/linebacker Brian Blechen said last week that he and fellow safety Eric Rowe only recently were starting to build good chemistry together where they could react and play like they knew what the other was doing.
Blechen was speaking only about his experience, but he could have been talking about the whole defensive unit.
The breakdowns were particularly glaring in the early part of the season, when miscommunication led to big plays by Utah State, BYU and Arizona State.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham pointed out that the linebacking unit was an evolving group throughout the season. The good news is that the Utes return all the starters, which should make the 2013 lineup a little more solid.
Whether it is the offense or defense, Utah has to find some solidarity in 2013. The Utes need more depth and more playmakers on offense, but as we saw this year, consistency in lineups plays a huge part in a team’s success.
The competition was at a point in the Mountain West Conference where the Utes often were good enough to overcome hesitations and breakdowns and still beat the majority of their opponents.
They don’t have the luxury of being able to do the same in the Pac-12. If the Utes don’t come together, it will be more of the same. That is a consistency the Utes want to avoid.
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