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Utes' offense offensive

How bad is Utah's offense? So bad that only 12 teams have a worse offensive production nationally. Utah finds itself ranked along side such great programs as Idaho, Akron, Memphis and that desert power, UNLV. 

The Utes are averaging only 22.7 points per game. On its face, that is not an awful number. But when you realize that includes the 54 point outburst against the BYU Cougars, it becomes painfully clear how offensive this offense really is. 

In conference play, Utah is averaging only 13 points per game. That is a dismal number that won't win 'em many contests.

So why is the offense so putrid? 

Well for starters, they've got no quarterback. Look, Jon Hays is a great kid who took on an opportunity to play at a Pac-12 school. I can't fault him for jumping at a chance to accept a scholarship here, especially when the program he was set to start for, Nebraska-Omaha, decided to cut their football program.

Hays might not be a good quarterback, but this certainly isn't just his fault. A lot of the blame does fall on the coaching staff for not properly recruiting at this position the last few years. If Kyle Whittingham has failed at one thing while coaching at Utah, it's been his handling of the post-Brian Johnson era. 

It's been nothing short of a disaster. 

In hindsight, we probably should have seen this struggle coming. Anytime you start a freshman, you put yourself in a difficult position of recruiting capable quarterback talent. No one wants to come play for a team that's set at that spot for four years. The second Wynn took over for Terrance Cain against Wyoming, the coaching staff was creating an unbelievably difficult situation, even if they didn't realize it at the time.

That's where I can cut the coaches some slack. Obviously, back then, I doubt they realized that Jordan Wynn would be as injury-prone as he turned out to be and that, two seasons later, the Utes would be playing in the far more competitive Pac-12. 

But that's the risk you take when you put all your eggs in one basket and, the second Cain came out and Wynn entered against the Pokes, that is exactly what the coaches did. 

So if you want to pinpoint where this cluster@$#! really began, I guess it was the decision to play Wynn over Cain. 

Was it the right decision? Knowing what we know now, probably not. Nothing was gained by playing Wynn the remainder of that season. I doubt the Utes gained any extra wins and because, after that moment, it became apparent Wynn would be the starter for the next three seasons, any sensible quarterback would have been skeptical of accepting an offer from Utah. And why not? Who wants to come play backup to Wynn for three years? 

At that point, the future was Wynn.

The 2010 recruiting class, the year Wynn was set to start his 2nd season at Utah, the Utes signed two quarterbacks: Brian Blechen, a three star recruit out of California, and Tyler Shreve, the quarterback Whittingham has now announced will redshirt this year. He was also a three star kid out of California. 

Of course, Blechen was moved to the defense.

Utah signed only one 'real' quarterback recruit that season and he's yet to see the field - an entire class later. 

In this last class, the Utes signed absolutely zero quarterbacks. To be fair, that's not entirely Utah's fault. They had recruited, and even had the commitment of, Derrick Brown, but he later switched to Washington, where he'll probably never see the field.

Brown would have added much needed depth at the quarterback spot. But even so, he, like Shreve from the class before, would have been a freshman. Once again, we're in a position where the program is asking a freshman to step in and start - just like '09, but this time with a far more difficult schedule.

That's some bad recruiting and has put us in a position where the program has absolutely no quarterback depth and now must rely on a player who, prior to coming to Utah, was set to start for a D-II program (not FCS, D-II). You're probably not going to win a great deal of games under those circumstances.

What's worse is that this coaching staff, at least the past offensive coaching staff, has now no history of bringing in top-notch quarterback talent. Brian Johnson was an Urban Meyer recruit. Jordan Wynn, at least right now, is a huge question mark solely because no one knows how durable he will be in the coming seasons. 

Beyond Wynn, Cain and Hays, only Tommy Grady, who flopped, Corbin Louks, who left, and Brett Ratliff, who was only a quick fix, were recruited by Whittingham. That's a long list of potential, but it's very light on substance. Only Ratliff had any significant impact at Utah and, while I felt he did a good job, all things considered, his sole season here was probably the most uneventful of the Whittingam era.  

It's obvious Whittingham has not put an emphasis on the quarterback spot and it makes sense because he's a defensive-first guy. That's been his mantra throughout his career here. Now while that mentality can work in the Mountain West Conference, it's not going to work in the Pac-12. 

Utah has to start taking offense seriously because, as we've seen these past few games, defense is not going to be able to do all the heavy lifting. Sure, it's easy to say defenses win championships, but in some respects, offenses win games and we're not winning games with this offense.

Even if you neutralize the turnovers, the offense still has to produce sustainable drives to keep the defense off the field, to give the defense a reason to actually defend. Three and outs might not be as bad as turnovers, but they're only slightly better because, over the length of a game, it not only wears out the defense, it flips the field. 

Utah's defense did well enough controlling Cal early in the game Saturday. But when the offense failed to get a first down, or create any type of sustainable drive, even without turnovers, the Golden Bears were able to mount effective drives that changed the game.

Turnovers were a big reason the Utes lost the way they did, but it wasn't the reason for the defeat. Even with no turnovers, the game ends in ugly and embarrassing fashion because they could not, for much of the game, find any semblance of offensive flow.

Jeff Tedford and his defense knew exactly how to stop Utah heading into the game: stack the box and force them to pass. Utah can't pass, and because of it, there is no chance in hell they'll be able to run.

Cal just wrote the blueprint on how to beat the Utes this year. It's why I'm nervous, and doubtful, this team can find enough wins to get bowl eligible. It's a big reason why I've lost all confidence in Hays because, at the moment, I just don't foresee a breakout performance and though I like John White and think, when the offense isn't solely thrust upon his shoulders he's a very good running back, he's just not capable of carrying this team.

That puts this coaching staff in a difficult position. Not only have they realized their quarterback depth is astonishingly bad (no Shreve, Griff Robles is unproven and probably was moved to LB because he wasn't cutting it at QB), there isn't much they can do about it this season.

We've got to basically grin and bear it with Hays and hope that something clicks and he's able to turn things around.

But my overall concern, and something that I hate even talking about, is that we've put ourselves on a dangerous path to irrelevancy because of some major missteps the last few recruiting seasons.

One down year is not bad. But how do we remedy this situation? Wynn is most likely now lined up as the starter for '12, but can we rely on him to finish a complete season? As it was this season, we are once again going to put all our eggs in his basket and now there is an even longer history of injury. 

If he goes down, who's going to step in next year? It can't be Hays, right? Shreve? He'll be a redshirt freshman. Robles? Maybe, if he shows something this season (will he be given the chance, hell, he saw the most vanilla offense when he played Saturday). Travis Wilson? As much as I'm high on him, I don't like the idea of throwing Wilson to the Pac-12 wolves as a true freshman in a situation like that. 

So if next season is just a repeat of this season, how far back does that set the program? Let's say, though this isn't a prediction, Utah football does finish below .500 this season and fails to play in the postseason for the first time in nine years - what if that happens again next year? The last time Utah had back-to-back losing seasons was all the way back in 1989-'90, or before most of Utah's roster was born. 

I don't want to sound like I've got us penciled in for that type of debacle or that I'm being overly negative here (I've been told I have a tendency to do that), but I also am worried because losing is contagious. Once that mentality sets in, it's tough to break. Just ask Colorado, Washington State and even UCLA. 

No one wants that. 

That's why this whole situation is so frustrating and why it's important the coaches right this ship as fast as possible. If Wynn is the guy next year, and I hope he is because I really like him as Utah's quarterback, we've got to have a contingency plan that does not rely on a quarterback who should be playing D-II ball, a redshirt freshman or a true freshman. 

That means this coaching staff better be scouring the junior college ranks for anyone who's serviceable (a QB with other offers from FBS programs would be nice). Or they better just start Robles the remainder of the season to see what he brings to the table. 

But if we head into 2012 with Wynn as our guy, but still questionable and untested depth at quarterback, we're once again playing Russian Roulette and, unfortunately, the next time might be the fatal shot.