Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's imaginary playbook spread across the entire width of his new desk in the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center as he outlined what he wants the Utes to look like in 2019.
“Which sections do you draw from? It’s all based on the players in the program,” said Ludwig, known for his adaptability while working at California, San Diego State, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt since leaving Utah after the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Just a few hours into his second stint on the Ute staff, Ludwig sounded a lot like Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, his boss then and now. Whether the scheme resembles Utah's spread offense of 2008 or Wisconsin's powerful approach of 2013-14, the constants are ball security, physicality and “a premium commitment to running the football, which leads to a lot of good things,” Ludwig said Friday evening.
Running success creates one-on-one matchups on the outside, and Ludwig's Vanderbilt offense exploited those in a 3,130-yard passing season for senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur in 2018.
That’s almost a word-for-word script of Whittingham’s news conference after a loss to Washington in mid-September, when he spoke of avoiding turnovers, establishing a physical aura and having “big-play capability.”
And that basically explains how they’ve become reunited 10 years later in a new facility at the same campus location, in a new conference with heightened expectations after the program’s first Pac-12 South championship. The difference? Utah’s scoreless second half of a Holiday Bowl loss to Northwestern in Troy Taylor’s last game as offensive coordinator left Ludwig some room for improvement. That’s unlike the 2005 Fiesta Bowl work of outgoing coach Urban Meyer and his offensive staff, prior to Ludwig’s initial hiring.
Following those guys was a challenge, which Ludwig eventually lived up to with a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama as his farewell – not that the current job description of defending a division title is easy. Ludwig intends to do it with the current offensive staff of Jim Harding (line), Guy Holliday (receivers), Kiel McDonald (running backs) and Freddie Whittingham (tight ends), while personally coaching the quarterbacks.
“This is the open spot; I'm the new coach on the staff,” Ludwig said. “There's nothing else, no changes on the horizon. Absolutely not.”
With the return of running back Zack Moss for his senior season, Wisconsin becomes the natural comparison to this point in Ludwig's career arc. He called the plays during Melvin Gordon's 2,587-yard season of 2014, ranking No. 2 in FBS history. Even so, nobody should be expecting Moss' workload to suddenly grow to 30 carries per game.
No back in the country averaged more than 23.6 attempts in 2018, and Moss' 19.9 carries were not far below that number. “You can't beat 'em to a bloody pulp,” Ludwig said. “It's a physical, violent game.”
In his statement about the hiring, Whittingham said Ludwig's transition should be easy because “he's obviously familiar with the program.”
He knows what he's getting into, certainly. Working for Whittingham, Ludwig said, is “intense – just what you want.”
Ludwig, 54, never has worked more than four seasons at any school. With his respect for the program and family ties to the Intermountain area, he expects to remain at Utah for as long as Whittingham, 59, remains the coach.
He's proud of the 2008 Utes' 13-0 record, but he said of his return, “What I'm not looking for is a trip down memory lane. There's a lot of work to do right now.”
That work started Friday, when Ludwig’s arrival coincided with the reported official visits of two quarterback recruits: Cam Rising, a University of Texas player who has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, and Taj Gregory, a 6-foot-7 prep QB from Dallas.