In the coming weeks, we will be looking at the 10 biggest questions heading into spring football. We first looked at the offensive line position battles and if the Utah defense will change under new defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. Along that same line, we take a look at how the offense may change in 2016. The 2016 season marks the first time since 2008 that Utah did not make a change at the offensive coordinator position. Both Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding are back to helm the Utah offense. There are many question marks with the offense heading into 2016 (and several other topics related to the offense will be covered later in this series), so the focus in this article is specifically about schematic changes.
One advantage of having the same offensive coordinators for more than one season is that time does not have to be spent in spring football installing the offense and the new terminology. Instead, Utah can use time in spring to add new wrinkles to the offense, get new players up to speed, and generally just clean things up and work out the kinks.
The Utah offense struggled mightily at times in 2015, especially after running back Devontae Booker got hurt against Arizona and missed the rest of the season. Booker, the focal point of the Utah offense for the past two seasons, is gone. In 2014 and 2015, the Utah defense and special teams were markedly better than the Utah offense. Utah played to their strengths, trying to win the field position battle, force turnovers, and not turnover the football. Booker was also by far the best player on offense, so the offense ran through him. These things led to a conservative gameplan throughout much of the last two seasons. In 2016, Utah will not have as much talent on defense, and they will not have Booker. Further, Utah tried to minimize turnovers, and former quarterback Travis Wilson had a habit of turning over the football. He threw 37 interceptions in four years as a starter. Part of Wilson's interception problem was on him due to poor decision making and inaccuracy; part of the blame also falls on the receivers for failing to catch the ball and not generating separation on their routes.
Now, what does all this tell us? Well, my guess is we see Utah throw the football more in 2016. We will discuss the quarterback battle in a future article, so we will not elaborate on that here. We will however say that Utah's likely starting quarterback, former Washington quarterback, Troy Williams is known to be a very accurate passer who throws his receivers open. Having a quarterback that the offensive coordinators trust to make plays and not create turnovers, as well as not having Booker at running back, will likely result in Utah throwing the ball more.
The other shift I expect to see offensively is less power running. Joseph Williams is not a small running back at 5' 11", 200 pounds, but where he truly excels is with his speed. He ran the fastest 40-yard time dash in winter workouts (posting a 4.35). Williams will not be the only speedy back in the backfield next season either when Troy McCormick can return after suffering a knee injury last spring. I do not think Utah will abandon power running, especially with the offensive line they have coming back. It just seems likely they will try to utilize McCormick's and Williams's speed on the edge. Last spring before McCormick got hurt, Utah was lining McCormick up in the slot and using him for jet sweeps and speed options. Expect to see more of this with McCormick (especially with Britain Covey gone on his mission). McCormick may also be utilized in the screen game as well.
Utah did not have time to revamp the offense after Booker, Covey, and Kenneth Scott all suffered late-season injuries last season. With an entire offseason to focus on improving the offense rather than install it, it will be interesting to see what new facets Utah can add to the offense to make it more potent in 2016.
10 Biggest Spring Questions: