Without a doubt, 2004 was Utah’s best offense. My favorite play that Utah ran in 2004 was the shovel option from a two back formation. The speed back runs ahead of the quarterback and the power back runs up the middle (see this video around the 3:00 mark). If the quarterback pitches to the power back, it is a forward pass, so a failed pitch is considered an incomplete pass, not a fumble. This formation would suit Utah’s personnel this year perfectly. McCormick has great speed, and I think Booker can be a punishing inside runner. Wilson has shown good enough running ability to run this play, or it could be a special formation that Kendal Thompson runs.
I would like to continue to see read option plays, as well, because they worked very well at times last year. I would really like to see some triple option plays out of the shotgun with Booker being the dive option and McCormick (or Dres coming on a sweep) be the pitch man. This could also be used effectively to set up screen passes (the third option is the screen). Christensen ran this play last year at Wyoming where the back that was running the screen route would go in motion. When run correctly, that play is very effective and difficult to defend.
I loved what Utah was able to do last year with screens. It was very effective against teams that put a lot of pressure on Utah’s struggling offensive line. Against Stanford, Utah used screens to the running backs and wide receivers to open up holes in the middle of the field for Poole to run through. This offensive strategy should be even more effective this year for multiple reasons. There is more speed with McCormick and Clay to get to the edge and create in space, and Utah’s linemen should be more athletic this year, a better fit to block for screens. Utah has a great mix of speed and power in their backfield, so I think they need to find ways to utilize all of the talent to create mismatches.
Other formations that could utilize the talented running back corps would be the pistol diamond formation (have not seen Utah or Christensen use this, so it is more something I want to see but do not expect). Booker would be the dive back and either Poole or McCormick would be the pitch back or would run a screen/swing route. This formation is a way to get three talented running backs on the field who all have different skills. This formation also has two wide receivers, so there are interesting ways that they could be used as well.
Utah has a lot of speed at wide receiver, and Dres Anderson showed fans last year the deep threat that he is. I think that having Dres run deep will open the field underneath for players like Kaelin Clay, Kenneth Scott, Dominique Hatfield, and Westlee Tonga on slants, screens, or other short routes. This could also force defenses to not be able to key in on Dres, getting him more single coverage looks. In 2012, fans also got to see how effective Kenneth Scott could be going up and getting jump balls, so he should be a great red zone weapon for Utah this year.
Expect to see more five wide receiver sets this fall, as well. Andre Lewis (a former four-star junior college recruit) is a guy who has great physical tools, so he may be a player to watch who could play in the four or five wide receiver sets. For this offense, I think it will necessitate that the quarterback go through his progressions well. I do think the quarterback will be expected to run the football as well. The quarterback in a Christensen offense always has the second most carries after the main running back (in some cases, the quarterback has been the leading rusher as well). Having a quarterback who can run gives an extra running threat, which can help open holes for a running back, and it gives the ability to run quarterback draws in five wide receiver sets.
With the increased tempo Christensen brings, Utah will need to move the ball effectively. One of the biggest problems Utah has had for much of their time in the Pac-12 is that the defense is forced to carry a struggling offense. The offense often does not make the defense’s job easy either with many three and outs. This cannot happen with the quicker tempo because that would give the defense even less time to rest. The advantage the hurry up gives the offense is not allowing the defense to substitute (provided the offense does not substitute any players), which can wear down a defense on long drives and over the course of the game. For this to happen, the offense needs to stay on the field. The new offense cannot be predictable and conservative like it has been in years past. Utah needs to change up what plays they run on first down (it seemed that Utah almost always ran it on first down last year). Creativity is key to being successful in a spread offense. Utah also cannot sit on leads in the fourth quarter like in years past, that strategy will not work in the Pac-12. With all this said, I believe Dave Christensen knows how to run a successful offense, and as a result, the offense this year will be more effective than last year.