Analysis: Utes come to Tucson with plenty fire and power
Kyle Whittingham is the third-longest tenured coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision, for good reason. Whittingham has built a consistent winner in Salt Lake City. The Utah Utes have won a combined 27 games in the last three years, including nine games in 2016.
The Utes have won nine or more games seven times in the last decade and are off to a hot start winning all three of their non-conference games this season. While the non-conference slate wasn’t exactly murderer’s row, Utah cruised past North Dakota, rival BYU and San Jose State.
Throughout Whittingham’s tenure, the Utes have been a run-first offensive unit. Change is in the air as Utah has abandoned the run and embraced the pass. Quarterback Tyler Huntley has been efficient in the early going, completing 72.1% of his passes.
Huntley shredded San Jose State in his last appearance, tossing four touchdowns in a 54-16 rout. The sophomore signal caller has built a strong rapport with receiver Darren Carrington. Carrington, a former Oregon Duck, is the Utes leading receiver.
The senior from San Diego has been dominant in non-conference play, averaging 15.7 yards per catch. Carrington has recorded over 100 receiving yards in every game this year. With Carrington being a matchup problem, look for the Wildcats to bracket the explosive wideout. Rodriguez and the ‘Cats are extremely familiar with Carrington, UA coaches recruited the speedster when he was in high school.
The rapid improvement of the Ute passing game has forced the formerly dominant rushing attack into the shadows. Tailback Zack Moss has averaged 4.4 yards per carry in limited action. Moss is a physical runner and is at his best in short yardage situations.
Utah also utilizes the quarterback position in the run game as Huntley leads the team in rushing. Arizona head coach Richard Rodriguez noted in his weekly press conference that Huntley was “extremely athletic.”
Ute offensive coordinator Troy Taylor takes advantage of Huntley’s athleticism by calling a variety of designed quarterback runs. The Wildcats will need to place a spy on the mobile Huntley.
The Utes offensive front is inexperienced, with senior guard Salesi Uhatafe the lone returning starter. Despite that inexperience, the line is as physical as ever.
Rodriguez noted that this year’s Ute defense is more athletic than any of its predecessors. Its new-look defense features stars on all three levels. Defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei has been a factor throughout his career. A two time All Pac-12 selection, Lotulelei is a load inside and thrives in run support, and can collapse a pass pocket. He will be double teamed on most downs, and like Houston’s Ed Oliver, Lotulelei will be accounted for before every snap. Filipo Mokofisi is another interior mauler recording 45 tackles last season. Defensive end Maxs Tupai drew attention during fall camp, his combination of strength and speed makes him a potent pass rusher.
Linebacker Suni Tauteoli leads the Utes in tackles this season with eighteen. Tauteoli is versatile and is athletic enough to play pass coverage. Chase Hansen blossomed as a sophomore, racking up 90 tackles last year. Hansen was named 3rd team All Pac-12 after the season and is expected to be one of the conference’s finer safeties.
Most punters are anonymous figures, viewed as a necessary evil by teammates and fans. Mitch Wishnowsky is a unique weapon. His powerful leg and uncanny accuracy gives Utah an additional way to attack offenses. The 2016 Ray Guy Award winner, and 1st Team All-American is far and away the best kicking specialist in the Pac-12. Wishnowsky averaged 47.7 yards per punt last year, and pinned opponents inside of their twenty-yard line on 34 occasions.
The Wildcats open the Pac-12 conference play against the No. 23 Utah Utes Friday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.
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