The University of Utah football team has not played a game yet, its Nov. 7 season opener vs. Arizona having been called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing contact-tracing protocols.
UCLA played its opener, a 48-42 loss at Colorado in which the Bruins tallied 478 yards of total offense, but yielded 525 and allowed the Buffaloes to run 92 plays. That game tape, just like any game tape, is available and ready for future opponents to decipher and scout.
Despite the COVID-19 troubles, Utah has plowed forward this week with plans to UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday evening. Cautiously assuming the game actually kicks off, which side has the advantage? Utah, which hasn’t played yet and has no recent film for UCLA to study, or the Bruins, who at least have a game under their belt, but can be scouted by the Utes because of it?
“There’s arguments on both sides,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said on Monday. “Typically, the old adage is you make improvements between Game 1 and 2, so they’ve got that on their side. As far as us, we have a full game tape to watch, study and analyze, while they have nothing on us yet this year, so who knows. There are advantages going both ways depending on how you look at it.”
During Whittingham’s one and only Zoom session this week with the media, he offered a dark picture of what’s been happening inside the Eccles Football Center.
One factor that stuck out was his indication that scout-team players and walk-ons were getting prepared to see live game action on Saturday. Additionally, Whittingham painted his roster situation on Monday as barely having enough players to meet the Pac-12′s 53-scholarship player threshold to even play a game.
UTAH AT UCLA
When • Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MT
TV • FOX 13
With Whittingham addressing scout-team players and walk-ons Monday, third-year Bruins head coach Chip Kelly was asked Tuesday about preparing for such a situation.
“I think when you get into the minutiae of that, they don’t have that many people out that have been reported,” Kelly said. "So what we do is, we prepare for — you know, they provided a depth chart and it’s the same depth chart that they provided Arizona, but again, they have no tape this year, so it’s not like you can watch this year’s game and say, ‘Hey, these are the guys that are playing.’
Kelly went on to say that breaking down game film of last season’s Utah team can be beneficial, but only to a point, in all fairness.
Last season’s film would include nine defensive starters who are no longer at Utah, plus multi-year starting quarterback, Tyler Huntley and multi-year starting running back, Zack Moss, among others. Furthermore, one player expected to take on a huge role for the Utes' offense, redshirt junior Britain Covey, doesn’t have any game film with him being fully healthy since late in the 2018 regular season. He played four games last season before taking a redshirt.
On the flip side for Kelly, Utah’s coaching staff is fully intact from last season, so studying 2019 film may offer something in the way of tendencies, schemes, etc. One argument against that factor, though, is that Utes offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has said he will adjust to his personnel, and not try to make his personnel adjust to him. With that, what Ludwig did with Huntley may not match with what he chooses to do with his new starting quarterback, who remains unknown.
As far as scouting a Utah quarterback, getting that done with South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley will prove easier given he started 33 games across four seasons for the Gamecocks. Redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising has never taken a collegiate snap, while redshirt senior Drew Lisk has seen limited game action in his career.
With Whittingham talking about scout-team players earlier this week, true freshman Cooper Justice cannot be ruled out as a possibility to at least travel and dress on Saturday night.
“Yeah, we watched South Carolina tape on Jake, so I know our defensive staff has broken him down from that standpoint and we just have to be prepared, but he still has to fit into Utah’s scheme,” Kelly said. “How he was used exactly at South Carolina, you can kind of get a feel for what he’s like and what his talent level’s like and what type of quarterback he is, but you also have to be aware of, it’s the Utah coaching staff that’s going to implement the game plan for him, but we have watched South Carolina tape on Jake.”