UCLA is set to kick off against Utah on Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, home to one of the loudest fan-bases in the country. With the MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section) and the rabid Utah fans watching a much-improved Utes squad, expect the place to be packed.
One of my favorite things about the Utah Utes is their fan-base. Gracious, clever, smart and passionate, the blogosphere embodies what the Ute fan-base is like.
I asked a few of these guys some questions about the Utes. They had a lot to say.
Utah got through their fourth win against BYU a little over a week ago. As someone who digs Utah, I’m going to miss that rivalry. I would love to see BYU get picked up by the Pac-12 so we have another storied rivalry in our conference. Do you want BYU in the Pac-12, too? Do you just want the rivalry to die? If so, how come?
Andrew Gorringe, Scout (@AGorringeScout)
I personally want nothing to do with BYU. I would love it if the rivalry died off. The games are fun, but as a Utah fan they’re so damn stressful because they always end up being close. BYU to the Pac12 won’t happen, in my opinion, either.
I’m also just not a fan of how disgusting the rivalry has become with some fans and the media. The 2 weeks leading up to the game was just complete bull shit as the fans and media just tried to stir shit up all week. Like I said, I don’t want anything to do with them.
Utes in the NFL (@UtesInTheNFL)
I hope the rivalry goes away forever. I think it was a mistake by Dr. Hill to schedule them starting back in 2016. I echo what Andrew said below re: how ugly it gets and how far out of perspective the game gets: the game is pointless now because of Utah’s conference affiliation. BYU touted the game this year as their Super Bowl and it was Utah’s least important game on their schedule.
Utah has nothing left to prove: their talent gap over BYU is gigantic (with both players and coaches) and they are in a big boy conference now. I think it would be the ultimate F U to BYU to tell them that Utah has moved on and unless they want to play at Rice Eccles every year then the game is off. Utah has bigger fish to fry than playing a home-and-home with an independent. The game does nothing but create noise for fans and players.
Robby Jackson, Scout (@RJacksonScout)
The Utah-BYU game itself is normally pretty good, but there is always so much other “stuff” that comes along with it that makes the week leading up to the game insufferable. Beating BYU will always be fun, but to have an emotional non-conference game EVERY YEAR is tough for a program that’s having enough trouble with its conference schedule.
Historically, BYU is a more accomplished program than Utah is. Not playing them every year will help the Utes step further out of the shadow that is BYU and will help them find their niche in the Pac-12 and specifically the south division. I’m fine with playing them every once in a while, but I don’t want to see the game being played every year.
BYU to the Pac-12 would be hell on earth. I’m tired of them and want Utah to do their own separate thing. They seem to love independence and like the exposure it brings them. If the Pac-12 adds them then they probably add another team to even the divisions out. Who would that be? Boise State? BYU to the Big 12 seems like a better fit anyway.
Chanse Frenette (@UtahProgressive)
One of the best parts about living in Utah is the Holy War. When I was growing up it was the Coach McBride and Coach Edwards eras. They had mutual respect for each other and they had a good time with the rivalry. It was fun then. Things have become very ugly since then though. The moment the Utes hired Urban Meyer and began their climb into national relevance in football, BYU and Utah fans have been at their worst. It doesn’t help that the two current coaches cant seem to be more different. Coach Whittingham and Coach Mendenhall, you get the impression, don’t like each other that much. Add to that the changing dynamics of the state, and it’s just added fuel to the fire. It’s really out of hand and needs to end. As far as the PAC 12 business for BYU goes.. I don’t believe any true Ute fan wants BYU in the PAC 12. I’d like to see them stay independent so I can watch their demise (televised nationally on ESPN)
Ute Football Central (@UteCentral)
I would love to see this rivalry die down a bit, but not completely die off. The week before the game is completely out of control and continue to get even more bitter and crazy. Bad fan behavior(on both sides) was at an all time high this year and it just continues to get more personal. The funny thing is, I think half of the rivalry is fueled by Mormons who can’t stand BYU which is pretty amazing considering where these two programs were in the 80s. The hiatus is a good thing and hopefully it will calm a lot of us down. I worry that it will one day escalate into a Dodger-Giant rivalry that now has a few deaths on its hands and that would obviously be tragic beyond words. As far as BYU in the Pac-12, I hope that never happens and that’s just me being a total tool and wishing ill on Cougar Nation.
On another note, can I tell you that a rivalry win is absolutely worthless in this state! The Utes have owned the Cougars for just over two decades, but you’d never know it by talking to a Cougar fan. Utah never get any credit for winning this game and honestly, if they can’t get credit for it, why even play it.
Next question: Even though Utah didn’t put up crazy offensive numbers against TDS, the Utes are clearly a much better offensive squad. Travis Wilson has been awesome and it appears he’s got more time to operate, too. Is there a single thing you can identify as the reason for the Utes’ success on offense? Also, how good do you think a defense has to be to stop the Utes?
Even though the offense only put up 20 points on BYU, they were actually pretty productive against a defense that finished 3rd in the country last year. Utah totaled 402 offensive yards, including 272 from Wilson passing and Utah largely played very conservative on offense in the second half after being up 13-3 at halftime. BYU’s defense is very good and so I was actually pretty pleased with their performance.
The reason the offense is better thus far is a combination of Dennis Erickson, and a vastly improved Travis Wilson. Erickson came in and basically streamlined the offense to make it more simple, while also adding the necessary wrinkles to it to make it more effective. With Brian Johnson as OC last year, there were times where his series of play calls made absolutely no sense. That has completely changed and Erickson’s play calling thus far has been superb, and everything just seems to make sense. Wilson’s progression can’t be understated thus far, as many people didn’t expect him to make this kind of jump, and if they did, they probably weren’t expecting it till his junior year. Travis is much calmer in the pocket and goes through his reads much better than he did last year, but the one thing that has been biggest for him has been his confidence from being named a team captain. You can just tell that he carries himself different this year, and he’s legitmately the captain of that offense right now. His confidence is really high right now, and that only makes him better. Plus, were now seeing that he’s a legitimate threat running the ball, and if teams don’t respect that part of his game, he’ll burn em. He doesn’t look fast and looks weird when he does run, but once he gets going, he can run by defenders.
The biggest weakness for Utah right now is 3rd down conversions. They’re only converting 32% of their 3rd downs, and so a defense can have success against them if they get them in 3rd and 6 or longer. The offensive line has also shown a weakness agianst smaller, quicker defenseive ends and pass rushers. Poutasi at LT is playing a little too heavy IMO, and he hasn’t been playing up to his ability. He has struggled versus quicker defenders, and while Barr isn’t small, he is fast off of the edge and so Poutasi will have his hands full.
MAC at Hoyo’s Revenge (@MACatHoyos)
At first thought, if Utah gives their best game and UCLA their best, UCLA wins that game. I don’t think we’re a mile apart but UCLA is the better team. For the Utes to win, we have to play a very good game, especially no turnovers on offense and the defense will need to generate a couple of turnovers which it is still struggling to do. Utah can score points but if we get into a shooting match like we did with Oregon St., I don’t like our chances in that.
But this Utah team fights and scraps unlike any team we’ve had in awhile. And that goes a long way. The question of it being enough? I just don’t know.
Utes in the NFL
I think a defense has to be solid all game to ‘stop’ Utah, but there are ways they can slow them in spurts. Oregon State came out in different looks than Utah had seen all season and it flustered them for an entire quarter- they didn’t get a first down for over 15 minutes. I think they are very, very well coached this year and the simplicity with wrinkles from Coach Erickson has been a breath of fresh air for the offense.
It’s clear Wilson is light years ahead of where he was a year ago, and if he protects the ball Utah will be tough to beat. I think it will take Coach Whittingham letting go and not taking his foot off the gas to really get to UCLA. I think he picked his spots to go for blood last week and he can’t do that this week- he has to go full speed with the offense from opening kick.
Overall I don’t think there is one thing to point out as the difference the offense is clicking, but the aggregate of changes made this offseason are paying off and having consistency will be key moving forward, just like it has been for Utah in the past. I tweeted out a few weeks ago that in the last 9 seasons of Utah football there have been only three seasons that Utah finished the season with the same starter at QB they began the year with, and two of those three seasons were undefeated BCS years. Not saying that will happen this year, but The Utes need consistency and tenure from Wilson that the rest of the team can grow with.
I don’t think there’s one single thing in particular that’s helped the offense, but I think it’s a combination of Travis Wilson figuring out how to play football at this level and the influence of Dennis Erickson on the team. Wilson had moments last year where you could tell that if he was in the right situation he could shine as a QB. With Erickson now on the staff it’s helped speed up his progression and growth as a leader. This offense wouldn’t be what it is without Erickson, but it also wouldn’t be what it is without Wilson either.
What will it take for a defense to stop this offense? They’ve got to be disciplined and can’t let penalties extend drives. The Utes seem to take advantage of the second chances they get. Also, once Utah sees a crack in a defense, they’ve done a good job at exploiting it. A huge chunk of Utah’s final scoring drive against BYU was them running the same exact play for Dres Anderson. Utah was able to get 6 or 7 yards off of each play and easily marched down the field. Utah’s offense isn’t Oregon’s so it won’t take an amazing defense to stop it, but it’s got to be a defense that is disciplined and quickly adjusts. If a defense can force Utah to be in 3rd and 4 or something similar, chances are they’ll be able to end Utah’s drives. Utah is not a good team in 3rd down situations.
The BYU game was kind of odd. Given the nature of the rivalry, we played very conservative against them. We came out and grabbed control and just held on to it the whole time.
The easy answer to this question is one name, Dennis Erickson.
I’m not saying Brian Johnson was a bad coach, but play calling last year was bad. Add to that a questionable offensive line, nagging injuries for John White and a true freshman QB and you can see that Brian wasn’t dealt a great hand. But, the addition of Dennis Erickson has created a more confidence in this offense. You can just feel it up there. It’s a feeling we haven’t had here since Ludwig. Anyways, there was a lot of excitement coming out of camp this year surrounding the offense and I believe we’ve only barely scratched the surface of what we’re capable of doing. Dennis has brought structure and experience to this coaching staff.
Also, Wilson has been phenomenal. His drops and reads have come a long way and he’s showing some confidence now. It also doesn’t hurt that he has protection now too. A better offensive line has been one thing I don’t think we can’t attribute to Coach Erickson. But other than that I think he deserves a ton of the credit.
As far as how good a defense has to be, BYU had a solid defense last year. On paper it should translate to this season as well. But they had a hard time containing Wilson and looked lost at times. I don’t know how good the BYU defense will end up being this year, but I think it proves to be just as good as last years team. This tells me that a defense has to be pretty good to stop the Utes this year. However, if you go back and look at the Oregon State game film, the Beavers were able to get pressure on Wilson and forced him into a few bad throws resulting in three interceptions. The offense still put up crazy numbers though. But, if you’re gonna stop the Ute offense, you’re going to have to win the battle up front and send some blitz packages at him. Test the offensive line all night.
Alright, last question: The Utah defense hasn’t been on top of its game as some of you alluded to. Many of you credited OC Dennis Erickson for the offense’s growth, so who’s to blame — if anyone — for the regression of a Ute defense which held UCLA to 21 points last year?
Separately, what’s your prediction for this game?
I don’t think there’s really anyone to blame, and I really think it just comes down to lack of talent and experience in some key areas. Because of those deficiencies, it has caused the defense as a whole to play a lot more conservatively thus far. Last year the defense had 3 senior cornerbacks that they relied on and trusted in one on one matchups against every team. This allowed the D to be more aggressive. This year there is a lack of exprience and talent in the secondary. Keith McGill and Davion Orphey have played the majority of the snaps at corner, and RS freshmen Justin Thomas and Reggie Porter have backed them up. Orphey is a JUCO transfer this year and so he is still adapting to the D1 level, but was much better in Week 4 than in Week 1. McGill was a 4 star JUCO safety in ’11 and is a huge man at 6’3-210, but he struggled picking up the defense and then had two season ending injuries in a row. He’s made a good transition to corner and is getting better each week as well. Eric Rowe is a 3 year starter at FS but has failed to live up to expectations and IMO is very average at best right now. Michael Walker starts at SS, but IMO, isn’t a PAC 12 level safety. He’s playing there due to lack of talent right now.
I think there are definitely some coaching issues, as far as schemes on the defensive side of the ball, but I’d chalk up most of their struggles thus far to lack of talent and experience in key areas, which has prevented them from being aggressive, as were so used to seeing from a Utah defense.
I’ve flip flopped for over a week on this game and I’ve finally been able to lock down a prediction. UCLA is the more talented team and there’s no doubt about it, but there’s a feeling to this game for Utah. I can’t quite pinpoint why, but there is just a special feeling about this game for me. I think UCLA will play down to the level of competition a bit, and Utah will do the opposite, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Andy Phillps (kicker) has been absolute money for Utah thus far and I think he’ll be the difference in the game, and Utah stops a last minute UCLA offensive drive to try and tie the game up or take the lead. Utah wins 27-24.
Good question. We are used to good defense’s up here. But I don’t think it’s any one person’s fault. I think we have a weak secondary (especially when your name is Sean Mannion) We had to red-shirt LB/SS Brian Blechen and we’re just beginning to build on some depth in the system aka, they’re young. You really have to give Coach Reilly some credit here though. They just out schemed the Utes that night. I like to think the Utes are more like the team you saw against Utah State (a solid football team) and BYU. But I’m a big homer.
Prediction : Vegas has UCLA -6.
I think I take that bet.
The things to take into consideration here are, 1. UCLA hasn’t played well in the state of Utah over the last decade and 2. The weather conditions will more likely benefit Utah. If conditions are as planned, that could take the ball out of Hundley’s hands and change the outcome entirely. I do think UCLA is the overall better team but these factors could help the Utes. I think its close but ultimately, I will take UCLA by 6.
MAC (Hoyo’s Revenge)
Yeah Im going to echo the other thoughts about the defense. Not only did Blechen end up redshirting but we had a JC kid who was almost certainly going to start at safety end up not making grades. Combine that with a great deal of youth seeing time because we’re still trying to get to the depth levels of the Pac-12 and well it leads to some problems.
As others have pointed out, between Chuckie Heisman the opening week and then Mannion on a night where he hit every throw, we’ve faced some great offenses that have made us look worse than we are. Of course we get Brett Hundley and Stanford over the next two weeks. I think all of us will be wildly excited to finally face BJ Denker.
I don’t hate our shot at UCLA, but a little bit of me still wonders what this Ute team is. If the final throw against OSU doesn’t go right through Michael Walkers hands, we’re 4-0. OSU is now 4-1 but the 1 is Eastern Washington. At the end of the day the one thing I know about this Ute team is they scrap and fight and don’t quit. And that is why I have a great deal more hope than not.
The Utes have faced some really good offenses early in the year. They didn’t stop Chuckie and the Aggies but they certainly slowed the down. With the Oregon State game, a lot of credit has to be given to Sean Mannion who was on point all game against Utah. He was throwing to an excellent receiver as well and so it ended up being a bad match up for the young Utah secondary.
I feel that guys like Orphey and Thomas will eventually be really good for The Utes, but they’ve been thrown into the fire and are still finding their way through. So a long answer to a short question, I think inexperience is where the blame should go. I expect the Utah secondary to improve as the season moves along.