We already took a way too early look at Utah’s 2018 Pac-12 opponents, now let’s look at Utah. Specifically, we will look at the offense and breakdown which position groups will be better and which might take a step back in 2018. A look at the defense will come as a follow up as well.
Quarterback - Better
Tyler Huntley was Utah’s starting quarterback last year, which was a surprise considering as a true sophomore, he beat out incumbent starter and senior captain Troy Williams. While Williams will be missed, the quarterback group should take a step forward in 2018 since Huntley will be in his second year as a starter. Huntley was the second-leading rusher on the team and looked good throwing the football. In his second year behind center, I expect he will build on what he did last year and will be more comfortable in the offense. Speaking of the offense, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Troy Taylor is back, so he will have another whole year to work with Huntley and further fine tune his offensive scheme. Behind Huntley, Utah has Jason Shelley, who redshirted last year, and Jack Tuttle, the former Elite 11 quarterback, who is already on campus as an early enrollee.
Running Back - Better
Zack Moss looked great starting as a true sophomore last year, topping 1,000 yards rushing. He will be back to punish Pac-12 defenders for another year. Along with Moss, Devonta’e Henry-Cole, who was the third-leading rusher, will be back as will Armand Shyne, who missed all of 2017 with an injury. Troy McCormick, Jr. and Jordan Howard both graduated. McCormick’s receiving skills will be missed, but as running backs, they only combined for 21 carries. One name to watch out for is T.J. Green, who might be able to step in to replace what McCormick did for Utah last year.
Wide Receiver/Tight End - Possible Step Back
Utah will no longer have Darren Carrington II, their leading receiver in 2017, Raelon Singleton, who was the second-leading receiver, or starting tight ends Harrison Handley and Siale Fakailoatonga. While the tight ends did not catch a ton of passes in 2017, they were used heavily for blocking. For Taylor’s offense, he likes to have a bevy of wide receivers available (I have heard he likes to have eight who are game ready). With the top two wide receivers from 2017 both gone, this will require other players to step up. It also puts an emphasis on recruiting at least one if not a few recruits who can play right away. A lot of freshmen and sophomores played at wide receiver for Utah last year, and Utah will get freshman All-American Britain Covey back from his mission, and Texas Tech transfer Bronson Boyd will be eligible. It is possible this group could end up being better in 2018, it is just hard to say that with certainty given the personnel losses.
Offensive Line - Better
The offensive line took a step back in 2017, which was to be expected when four starters were drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. Only Leka Uhatafe returned as a starter in 2017 from that excellent 2016 offensive line. Flash forward to 2018, and Utah returns four starters (provided center Lo Falemaka is granted another year), and only Uhatafe will be gone. The line played pretty well in 2017, especially given the lack of experience, but I think they will take a big step forward in 2018. Returning experience on the offensive line is so critical to a team’s success because they help both the passing and running game.
Outside of wide receiver (and tight end), Utah returns almost every starter on offense. They were a young offense last season, playing in a totally new scheme. In 2018, they will be much more experienced and will be in year two of Taylor’s offense. With the returning experience across the board but especially along the offensive line and being more comfortable in Taylor’s offense (which I think got better as 2017 went along), it seems likely that Utah will take big strides on the offensive side of the ball in 2018.