Preview 2017: Utah Utes

Preview 2017: Utah Utes


Preview 2017: Utah Utes


Preview 2017: Utah Utes

Previewing and looking ahead at the Utah Utes season – and what you need to know.

Contact @PeteFiutak

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2017 Utah Preview: What’s Missing To Become Champ?
2017 Utah Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Utah Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Utah Offense

You know how this works for Utah. It’s going to crank up the running game with a tough, powerful offensive line, and the passing game will be just good enough at times to get by. But this year, there are a few major holes to fill.

Garrett Bolles is gone at left tackle – taking his talents to the Denver Broncos as their first round pick – bur three other starters are gone up front, too. There’s size ready to take over, but there’s no Bolles.

Losing RB Joe Williams isn’t a plus, either, but Utah always has good backs ready to rumble – Zack Moss is the leader of a good group that can pick up the production. The receiving corps isn’t going to be as easy a problem to fix, losing three of the top four targets, but getting back Raelon Singleton will help.

Fortunately, there’s a veteran quarterback in Troy Williams to help steady the ship. He’s a smart, savvy playmaker who should make everyone around him better, but the passing game has to somehow be more efficient with all the new receivers, and …

Biggest Key To The Utah Offense

Williams has to be better. The veteran quarterback was rock-solid in the win over USC, and he has the leadership, toughness and mobility to be the one to carry the offense at times – but he has to be better for the passing game.

He went a long time without making a slew of big mistakes – with just one pick in an eight-game stretch – but he was painfully inconsistent at times. While he had his moments when he hit everything, he completed 4-of-13 passes against Oregon State and the passing game didn’t go anywhere. In five of the last eight games he failed to hit 50% of his passes – that can’t happen again.

What You Need To Know About The Utah Defense

It’s Utah, so the defense will always be rock solid under Kyle Whittingham, but this one is going to need a little work.

The Utes finished 48th in the country overall, partly because the secondary gave up a ton of yards against a slew of good passing games, but outside of a few misfires, the D did its job.

This year, the defense will revolve more than before around the tackles with Lowell Lotuleilei and Filipo Mokofisi a terrific tandem, but the ends and the pass rush will be an issue early on.

The linebackers are fine, especially when the Utes go to a 4-2-5 alignment and the ability to put three on the field without a problem against the better ground games. The secondary, though, is another story.

Losing veteran corners Brian Allen and Reggie Porter is bad enough, but two-time All-Pac-12 star Marcus Williams took off to become a second round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Chase Hansen is a big safety who’ll put up big numbers, but he needs help around him, and …

Biggest Key To The Utah Defense

The pass rush has to be okay. Hunter Dimick took over games at times on the way to a 14.5 sack season, and Pita Taumoepenu added nine sacks of his own. The defense generated pressure from several spots, but losing 28.5 of last year’s 43 sacks is going to be hard to overcome.

It’s Utah, so there are always high-motor types waiting to fill in the gaps, but now the pressure is on Kyle Fitts and sophomores Bradlee Anae and Chris Hart to be the next pass rushers up in the progress. The tackles will be awesome and should hold down the run defense. The ends have to wreak havoc.

Utah Will Be Far Better If …

The kicking game is fine and the red zone offense is stronger. Losing star kickier Andy Phillips is a problem above just losing a guy who’s on the list of the top kickers in Pac-12 history – the Utes need a guy who can produce whenever the offense gets within range.

It was one of the team’s most puzzling issues last season – the Utes struggled in the red zone, coming away empty 12 times including twice in the 28-23 loss to Cal once in the 30-28 loss to Oregon. On the year, they scored 77% of the time after getting inside the 20, compared to 91% in 2015.

Can Hayes Hicken and Christian Antezana somehow replace Phillips and produce like a four-time all-star? As long as they’re hitting in the red zone when they get their chances, they’ll be getting the job done.

Best Utah Offensive Player

OG Salesi Uhatafe, Sr. – It might not seem all that sexy when a right guard is the best offensive player, but the 6-5, 320-pound veteran blaster has All-Pac-12 skills and three years of starting experience as the main man for the ground game to work around. While he might not be the best athlete, he’s a smart, tough-guy crusher who’ll be the running backs’ best friend.

2. QB Troy Williams, Sr.
3. RB Zack Moss, Soph.
4. WR Raelon Singleton, Jr.
5. OT Jackson Barton, Jr.

Best Utah Defensive Player

DT Lowell Lotulelei, Sr. – The top senior defensive tackle pro prospect, the 6-2, 320-pounder doesn’t have the upside his brother, Star, had coming out of Utah, but he’s not far off.

He’s built like a true anchor against the run, with the quickness to get behind the line with 18 career tackles for loss, 87 tackles, and 8.5 sacks. Everything around the nation’s 22nd-ranked defense revolved around him up front, and now he’ll combine with Filipo Mokofisi to give the Utes one of the Pac-12’s best defensive interiors.

2. P Mitch Wishnowsky, Jr.
3. DE Kylie Fitts, Sr. 
4. S Chase Hansen, Jr.
5. LB Kavika Luafatasaga, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

RB Zack Moss, Soph. – The Utes were actually fine when Joe Williams retired for a few weeks – they beat USC without him – but when he came back, he was among the most effective running backs in the country. Moss was the main fill-in when Williams was out, running for 90 yards against the Trojans, but going away once Williams returned.

Moss finished the season with 382 yards and two scores, but now the 5-10, 210-pounder from Miami will get his shot to carry the load. No one’s expecting him to be Williams or Devontae Booker right away, but he’s got the skills to be fantastic. That’s what the offense needs.

The Utah Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins nine games again. It’s another good Ute team, but it might have too brutal a schedule to get to double digits. Going to BYU is always going to be a fight, and having to travel to Arizona and USC in the division won’t be easy. The biggest problem, though, will be the interdivisional battles – the Utes miss Oregon State and Cal and get the four best teams.

At least Stanford and Washington State have to come to Salt Lake City, but having to go to Oregon and Washington isn’t fair, especially considering the trip the team has to take to …

Key Game To The Utah Season

Oct. 14 at USC – The Utes currently hold the distinction of being the last team to beat the Trojans, spoiling the debut of Sam Darnold with a 31-27 thriller. The nastier games on the Pac-12 South slate – UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado – are at home, but with those tough road game from the North, a loss to USC in L.A. probably means the end of any realistic Pac-12 title dreams.

2016 Utah Fun Stats

– Time of Possession: Utah 33:48 – Opponents 26:12
– Fumbles: Utah 32 (lost 17) – Opponents 22 (lost 13)
– Red Zone Scores: Opponents 32-of-37 (86%) – Utah 42-of-54 (78%)

2017 Utah Preview: What’s Missing To Become Champ?
2017 Utah Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Utah Previews: 2016 | 2015

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