A few years ago, Friday night television had a show called “Identity” hosted by Penn Jillette. The contestant would face a group of 12 numbered “strangers” and try to match them to a list of 12 occupations. When the contestant thought they had a match, Penn would say “Number four, Sam has told us you are a doctor, is THAT your identity?”
The stranger would then say “that is my identity” or “that is not my identity” and the contestant would either advance, or lose their money.
This reminds me of the Utah Utes, now and going forward, except I would change the words.
“University of Utah Utes, WHAT is your identity?”
We all remember 2003 and Urban Meyer coming to town to take the reins of the program. We all remember the massive PR campaign that came out trying to get people to come to RES for the games. Included was the promise that we would see “the scoreboard guy strain his thumb trying to keep up.” And we laughed at the thought.
Fast forward through this part that we have already seen, Brett Elliott gets hurt against A&M Alex Smith takes over, and Utah football is the hot ticket in town. Points are being scored at a rate never before seen. The offense is imaginative, it’s a shovel pass to Moa, a deep ball to Savoy, Warren making catches all over the place. Brandon Warfield knocking linebackers on their butt with a bruising run. Alex Smith taking off on a keeper.
The spread offense was still a new commodity in college football and the Ute fans had never seen anything like it.
Now here we are in 2010, ready for the Las Vegas Bowl. We have learned a lot through the ups and downs. Amazingly enough, as we prepare for game number 13, the Utes still do not have an identity. The talent level was enough to suffocate the first seven opponents, but starting with the Air Force, when the Utes couldn’t win on talent alone, the lack of identity hurt badly.
Are we a spread team? Are we a power team? Are we a pro-style team? What are we going to be next year?
Let’s start with Jordan Wynn. Jordan Wynn is a talented quarterback and Utah is fortunate to have him. Unfortunately, he is not a spread offense quarterback. The spread offense, in any and all of its forms, relies on a quarterback who is a threat to take off and run. Wynn has not developed this. In a scramble against Pitt, he looked painfully slow. I don’t know if he is afraid of getting hit and is tentative, or if he is just slow. Either way, it severely hampers the offense when the quarterback is not a threat to run.
Look no further than the TCU game. Without that threat of a QB scramble, TCU dropped 8 guys into coverage and only rushed three. With 8 players in coverage, Wynn could not find an open man, no matter how much time he had. And I don’t care how good the line is, eventually, one of those guys is going to get through.
Ballgame. Utah gets crushed.
At the same time, I am noticing a subtle change away from the spread. It starts with Sean Asiata. In a year when the linebacking core was thin due to injuries, the coaching staff chose to take Asiata, who had played linebacker at Snow, and make him a fullback. Utah has not used a real fullback since 2002.
Additionally, we are (trying to) incorporate more tight end play in our games, and I don’t mean tight ends running routes, I mean tight end blocking. Spread offenses rarely have a tight end in to block as often as Utah does.
Here is the identity crisis: We have a LARGE and I mean LARGE stable of receivers who are D-1 talents and deserve to play. This year, we have Shaky Smithosn, Jereme Brooks, DeVonte Christopher, Luke Matthews, Fatu Moala, Griff McNabb,Dexter Ransom, Reggie Dunn and Sean Fitzgerald. Next year,we lose Shaky and Brooks, but we also get Kenneth Scott, Mo Lee, Dres Anderson and incoming freshman Nate Fakahafua from Highland.
Obviously, there is no problem with having too much talent, unless you don’t utilize it. If the Utes go to more of a power set with a fullback and tight end, then there aren’t as many receivers on the field. Without playing time for everyone, do some of these talented guys pull a Jace Tavita and seek out greener pastures?
Another issue is, who is our running back? With the retirement of Shak, we are left with Tauni Vakapuna and…………….yeah. Lucky Radley is an option, but I have heard he might not be put in at running back, he may be switched to defense.
Additionally, a couple guys are coming in, including a guy named “Robert Johnson”. Harvey Langhi is on the board, and I have to think that the prospect of being a four year starter could sway him our way, instead of towards Stanford. That will be critical going forward, establishing a strong running attack.
With this, here is what I would like to see next year: (insert: hey dude, how many D-1 games have you won?, my answer is none, still, I want to throw these things out there.)
1. If Sean Asiata is going to be in the game, use him as more than a check-down back or blocker. He is great at those things, but give him the ball a couple times a game. It keeps the defense on their heels, and wears them down. At about 270 pounds, he is a load to bring down.
2. Short passing game, but not slant, slant, slant. That killed us with T-Cain when people figured out that that was all he could do. Wynn has the ability, but he needs to mix things up more. We need a variety. We need to use our speed. We need the short, high percentage passes setting up the deep ball. We need the deep ball setting up the crossing routes. We need the crossing routes…you get the idea.
3. Mix it up! I don’t see anything wrong with going from the I form to a 5-wide set. That makes life a nightmare for defenses. Additionally, Moeai, Rogers, and Tonga are all VERY talented, get them involved! Use a double tight set where they both go out for passes!
4. Jordan Wynn ought to work on scrambling this offseason. He needs to be able to make things happen with his feet. Otherwise none of the rest of this matters.
5. Two words: Christopher Package.
The Pac-12 presents challenges and I think this Ute team will be deeper and more talented than ever. But it will take utilizing all of the weapons to get the job done. Having an identity is critical in this, even if it means that we are predictably unpredictable.
Winning. Scoring like crazy. Score keepers thumbs hurting trying to keep up.
Utah Utes, is THAT your identity?
It certainly can be.