Utah football: Christensen brings new approach to same scheme
Things have changed but they remain the same.
That was the overall message delivered by Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Tuesday as he formally introduced new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen during a news conference at Utah's football facility.
Christensen, who becomes the seventh coach to hold the title of offensive coordinator since Whittingham was named the head coach following the 2004 season, wouldn't have been hired if he was an I or pro-style offensive coordinator, Whittingham said.
"The scheme that Dave brings to the table is so similar to what we are already doing," Whittingham said. "We're not going to bring a guy in here and start from square one. We just want to enhance what we have been doing. Hopefully the players will recognize that as the offense goes in."
Whittingham said the hiring of Christensen was the result of perfect timing. Christensen was available after he was fired by Wyoming on Dec. 1 and special teams coach Jay Hill left the Utes on Dec. 11 to become the head coach at Weber State.
Whittingham and Christensen have known each other since they coached together at Idaho State.
"Any time you have a chance to make yourself better, that is what you are going to do," Whittingham said. "It made perfect sense."
Whittingham acknowledged having so much change on the offensive side of the ball wasn't an ideal situation, saying it was in contrast to the defense, which has thrived under Gary Andersen and his successor, Kalani Sitake.
"It was not easy," Whittingham said of his decision to hire Christensen and demote Dennis Erickson to running backs coach.
So why make the change at all?
Whittingham said while the Utes showed improvement, it wasn't enough. Others close to the situation say Whittingham felt Erickson deferred too much of the decision-making and play-calling to his co-coordinator, Brian Johnson.
Ultimately, the results simply weren't what Whittingham wanted, with Utah averaging just 21.3 points in its final six games.
The Utes were also plagued by turnovers, with the quarterbacks throwing 21 interceptions while the defense nabbed only three.
"The turnover margin is really what sticks out," Whittingham said in reviewing the season. "We have to get that fixed."
Christensen was known for his no-huddle, spread offenses at Missouri, with his 2007 offense averaging 39.9 points a game and his 2008 offense averaging 42.2 points.
He would like to see that kind of productivity with the Utes, particularly since they are now a part of the Pac-12, a league known for its offensive prowess.
Christensen said he planned to keep the up-tempo style Erickson wanted to run last year, but said the Utes can play only as fast as they are effective.
"We can't go three-and-out and put the defense on the field, go three-and-out and three-and-out," he said. "We'll stress tempo in spring ball, but the higher level of execution we have, the faster we are going to play."
However, no one is sure which quarterback will be running his offense, which presents a unique challenge. Since the health status of quarterback Travis Wilson is uncertain, the Utes are planning to go into spring ball with the thought he won't be able to play again.
Wilson was sidelined for the remaining three games of the 2013 season when post-concussion exams revealed he had an intracranial arterial condition. Returnee Adam Schulz and freshmen Brandon Cox and Conner Manning will all compete for the starting role when spring ball starts March 18.
"Based on who plays the position, we'll mold the offense to fit his strengths," he said.
1980-82 • Washington
1983 • Western Washington (running backs)
1988 • Washington (offensive line)
1989-90 • Idaho State (offensive line,tight ends/running backs)
1990-91 • Toledo (offensive line)
1992-96 • Toledo (offensive coordinator)
1997-2008 • Missouri (offensive coordinator)
2009-2013 • Wyoming (head coach, 27-35)
INSIDE • Final Associated Press and coaches Top 25 polls. > D6
Finals USA Today/coaches poll
Rec. Pts Pvs
1. Florida St. (59) 14-0 1475 1
2. Auburn 12-2 1388 2
3. Michigan St. 13-1 1375 4
4. S. Carolina 11-2 1219 8
5. Missouri 12-2 1200 9
6. Oklahoma 11-2 1189 10
7. Clemson 11-2 1091 11
8. Alabama 11-2 1086 3
9. Oregon 11-2 975 12
10. Stanford 11-3 872 7
10. Ohio St. 12-2 872 6
12. C. Florida 12-1 865 15
13. Baylor 11-2 796 5
14. LSU 10-3 719 14
15. Louisville 12-1 703 16
16. UCLA 10-3 597 18
17. Oklahoma St. 10-3 587 13
18. Texas A&M 9-4 443 21
19. USC 10-4 313 NR
20. Arizona St. 10-4 302 17
21. Wisconsin 9-4 266 19
22. Duke 10-4 202 21
23. Vanderbilt 9-4 180 NR
24. Notre Dame 9-4 125 NR
25. Nebraska 9-4 123 NR
Others receiving votes • Washington 67, Fresno St. 54, Northern Illinois 21, Marshall 17 Texas Tech 13, Kansas St. 11, Mississippi 7, Texas 4, Miami (Fla.) 4 East Carolina 3, Cincinnati 3 Arizona 2, North Texas 2, Utah St. 2, Navy 1, Lo.-Lafayette 1.