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Statistically Speaking: Needs Based Recruiting - Offense

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Draft declarations and signing day are behind us, and spring practice is on the horizon. Along with the 17 graduating seniors, a handful of key players had draft decisions to make. The biggest news is that the Utes welcome back stud tailback Devontae Booker, but the departure of Jeremiah Poutasi is likely to have an impact on the offense. This is the offensive half of the two-part series on what the Utes are losing to graduation- and how the coach’s recruiting efforts promise to fill those holes.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Draft declarations and signing day are behind us, and spring practice is on the horizon. Along with the 17 graduating seniors, a handful of key players had draft decisions to make. The biggest news is that the Utes welcome back stud tailback Devontae Booker, but the departure of Jeremiah Poutasi is likely to have an impact on the offense. This is the offensive half of the two-part series on what the Utes are losing to graduation- and how the coach’s recruiting efforts promise to fill those holes.

Offensive Line

The Utes graduated to Marc Pouvave and Junior Salt this year, and Jeremiah Poutasi elected to leave early for the draft. The senior losses from this position didn’t hurt the Utes much, but Poutasi’s departure carries a sting.

Evaluating individuals on the O-line is a statistical challenge that has stymied better minds than mine, so I trust the expertise of the coaching staff in measuring a player’s contributions. To analyze what the Utes lost, we’ll take a look at starts and appearances.  The Utes had 60 offensive line starts this year, and 86 appearances.

Departing O-line

Started

Appeared

Mark Pouvave

0

11

Junior Salt

8

11

Jeremiah Poutasi

12

12

Even with Poutasi’s departure, the backbone of the 2014 line was underclassmen, who contributed 66% of the starts and 77% of the game action. This bodes well for the Utes’ line play in 2015. The passage of time alone transforms a player physically, and the difference between 19 and 20 is more instrumental for a lineman than a wide receiver. The Utes are well-positioned for strong offensive line play next year.

Despite the contributions of underclassmen, recruiting linemen was a stated priority of the coaching staff, and they delivered. While the Utes lost Brandon Bowen to Ohio State, Salt Lake City is welcoming five three-star prospects with the skills and build to make an impact.

Running Backs

Ute fans were relieved to learn that Devontae Booker was returning for one more year. His decision to stay in school means that the Utes return every meaningful piece of a run game that was one of the best in the conference last year. Booker accounted for 61% of the Utes’ rushing yards last year (and 12% of their receiving yards), and ten of their twenty-one rushing touchdowns.

The Utes didn’t make a splash on the recruiting trail at this position. They brought in Marcel Brown and Joseph Williams, but given a Doak Walker candidate leading the way and Bubba Poole and Troy McCormick both averaging over 4 YPC in 2014, it’s unlikely that anyone else will make a substantial contribution at running back. It’s a good thing, because there are question marks in the passing game, both because of well-established doubts about the quarterback situation, and because of the deep cuts graduation left on the receiving corps.

Wide Receivers

The Utes lose a lot here. Star receivers Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson are off to the NFL, and the Utes will miss the contributions of Westlee Tonga as well. The Utes also say goodbye to Andre Lewis, who wasn’t a major contributor but managed to turn his one reception this year into a 45 yard touchdown, hopefully a memory he can cherish.

Contributing WRs

Class

Rec.

Yards

Avg.

Long

TD

Kaelin Clay

SR

43

523

12.2

78

4

Kenneth Scott

JR

48

506

10.5

36(TD)

4

Westlee Tonga

SR

30

391

13.0

42

4

Dres Anderson

SR

22

355

16.1

48

4

Tim Patrick

JR

16

177

11.1

22

0

Delshawn McClellon

SO

7

98

14.0

55

1

Andre Lewis

SR

1

45

45

45

1

Siale Fakailoatonga

SO

2

33

16.5

26

0

Jameson Field

FR

1

17

17

17

0

Dominique Hatfield

SO

1

9

9

9

0

The damage here comes in a lot of different ways. The yards and TDs are obvious: the Utes lose 52% of their receiving yards and 68% of their touchdowns. What also stands out is the loss of a deep threat. Kenneth Scott is a great receiver with an NFL future, but he is best suited to shorter routes. Delshawn McClellon shows promise in that role, having managed to average 14 yards per reception over his 7 catches. It remains to be seen what will become of the Utes passing game, but some relative unknowns are going to need to step up to fill the role of Clay and Anderson in particular.

The Utes coaching staff had garnered legitimate interest from several top-tier recruits this season (I can’t begin to tell you how sad I am that the best name in football, Equanimeous St. Brown, is playing for the Golden Domers and not the Utes), but didn’t land anyone spectacular. Nonetheless, the Utes did sign a trio of three-star wide receiver prospects, as well as a number of athletes who may be able to contribute in the passing game.

This position isn’t a strong suit for the Utes and never really has been; the wide receiver position is more frequently a source of star defensive players like Nate Orchard and Robert Johnson than it is successful wideouts. The Utes’ situation here can be best described as ‘good enough’. It lacks a star like Devontae Booker or an underclassman with great promise such as Isaac Asiata, but there is enough here that the Utes should be able to generate a passing game, provided they can iron out the schematic and quarterback problems that plagued the offense last year.

Special Teams

The Utes return Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips, and Kyle Whittingham will continue to coach up the special teams. We can expect the same level of attention to detail, precision, and effort from this unit in 2015. Kaelin Clay will be sorely missed, however. Clay handled 74.5% of all the return duties in 2014, and picked up an incredible four touchdowns. The Utes saw a handful of explosive plays from other return men, notably Charles Henderson, but the biggest news in special teams is the successful recruitment of JC prospect Cory Butler.

Butler is a DB and return specialist, and he is ready to make an immediate and substantial contribution in the return game. He’s electric on film, and Ute fans can expect him to do as much as can be done to fill the hole Kaelin Clay left behind.

The Overall Outlook:

The Utes continue to bring in strong classes of impressively built offensive linemen, but lag behind the heavy hitters in the Pac-12 with tailbacks and wide receivers. The return of Devontae Booker and the arrival of Cory Butler are the biggest impact moves for the Utes, who hope to overcome their offensive shortcomings with an explosive return game and a steady running attack. With the Utes returning the majority of their starting unit, fans can expect pass protection, run blocking, and the run game to take a step forward. For the passing game to come into form, the Utes are going to need improved quarterback play for sure, but they’ll also need one of these wide receivers to take the next step and show the ability to replace the explosive downfield ability of Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson. If they can do that, the Utes will be a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball.