In the aftermath of Thursday night's loss, it's time we address some critical issues with Utah football. Firstly, I'm not going to call for Kyle Whittingham's head and won't unless this season ends like it began, in embarrassing fashion. At this point though, it's still too early and it will take a lot for Whittingham to get the axe. With that said, I do truly believe change will need to be made after this season ends in order for Whittingham to regain the trust of boosters and fans alike. That change begins on the offensive side of the ball.
The problem we currently have is that Whittingham is a defensive minded coach, who doesn't know all that much about offensive game planning. And that's fine, since most coaches typically only fully understand what they've coached and played their entire life. To compensate for this however, Whittingham has put his faith in Andy Ludwig and his offensive assistants. Normally that wouldn't be such a bad idea, but that generally only works when you have competent assistants. If you don't, it becomes a major issue that tends to hinder the growth of a program.
At Florida during the 1990s, Steve Spurrier readily admitted he didn't know a lick about defensive strategy or game planning and left that up to the Gators' defensive coordinator Ron Zook. While the defense was on the field, Spurrier spent most of the time on the sidelines talking with the offensive players, getting them ready for the next drive. It worked, because Ron Zook -- unlike now -- was competent coordinator. The problem with Utah though is that I do not think Andy Ludwig is a competent offensive coordinator. It's not as if I detest his play calling, though I question it at times, it's that I do not think he is a good coach and I think he's an even worse teacher when it comes to getting the players to understand basic football fundamentals. And that's the underlying problem with this offensive coaching staff, they do not know how to teach basic fundamentals.
The key assistants on offense also have proven to me that they might not be capable of getting the job done. I'm mostly thinking of Charlie Dickey, Dave Schramm and Aaron Roderick. All have underdeveloped their positions to the point where they are constantly a weak link on offense, when historically they should be the strongest aspect of Utah football.
Firstly, there is offensive line coach Charlie Dickey. He arrived here when Whittingham became head coach and the play of Utah's offensive line has been less than spectacular since. In fact, it hasn't even really been good. The defining moment of this line came in 2005, where Utah couldn't punch it in on four downs and goal against Colorado State. The fact the line could not get one opening for Ganther was not only infuriating, it was down right sorry. Last year it was even worse, as the running game became a far bigger liability and of course the first game of the 2007 season saw the line get dominated by Oregon State's defensive line.
The problem with Utah's offensive line is that they don't block well and they don't create holes that allow for a decent running game. And while some of it can be blamed on talent, Dickey is in his third year as the offensive line coach and he's going to have to start accepting some of the blame. Dickey in my mind is the worst offender of all the assistants I listed and if he returns next year, Utah will probably continue to struggle at finding a running game and that most likely will mean another disappointing season.
Of course, it isn't just the line's fault that Utah has no running game. I've got to wonder if Dave Schramm -- also in his third year -- is utilizing our backs to the best of their ability. I think talent is there, but there seems to be an ugly pattern since Ganther left the program and that's every back who runs the ball looks down right terrible. Whether it's Poston, Liti or Stowers and while Asiata looked decent enough in limited action, it was still far too short of time to really form an opinion one way or another. And Stowers, who was pegged the starter, was lucky to gain a yard on one carry. That's simply pathetic.
But again, it's basic fundamentals. It seems our running backs aren't taught how to run the ball well, or hard enough. Instead, the run game has been rather weak and very unproductive, something that Utah fans are not used to, since we had such a strong running game throughout the McBride and Meyer eras.
But while it's hard seeing the run game struggle, it's even harder watching Utah's receivers play poorly. Mostly because we knew the running game would be a big question mark heading into this season and the receivers were supposed to be a strength. Well I'm not so sure they are and that's possibly because Aaron Roderick -- 3rd year, as well -- is not doing a good enough job at coaching. Too many dropped passes and they're not blocking well. These are fundamental issues that should be taught by our coaching staff and it's just not happening. Roderick's boys should not be struggling like they did against Oregon State and I'm not so sure we can just brush it off as first game issues. We heard throughout spring and fall camps that players were constantly dropping passes, well why? The talent and experience is there and there really is no excuse for the poor play here, except that maybe Roderick is failing to get the most out of these players.
If the offense continues to struggle this week against Air Force, you will hear even more demand for change. The fact we failed to have a backup plan if Brian Johnson went down really has me questioning whether this coaching staff knows how to prepare for a football game. The fact Johnson missed a season because of injury should have told the coaching staff that it very well could happen again. So what happens? He's injured in the first game and we are left playing Tommy Grady. Ludwig does not have an entirely new set of plays for him to run in the event that this would happen and instead we force Grady to run an offense he has no business running. And while I'm not optimistic about Grady's ability, I think Utah would have made the game far more competitive if he had ran a style that catered more to his ability. But because we didn't, the Utes stood no chance. Now if that again happens against the Falcons Saturday, we will be in big trouble.
Thursday's game was hard to digest, especially because of the injuries. But we'll now get to see what this coaching staff is made of. I believe change is needed if this program is once again going to become an elite Mountain West team. That change might not include Whittingham, but if he's not open to the idea of dropping a few of his assistants, it very well might. And I hate saying that, because I really want Whittingham to succeed. Hopefully he makes the needed changes and we get this program back on track.