KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Previewing the Utah Offense

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Cal has struggled with consistency, discipline and poor play on offense this season. Well, so has Utah!


In honor of the "Blackout" the Utah fans are planning for this Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City...and also the outlook for the remainder of our season. Color our world blackened.

Now, to begin the whipping dance of the dead...

2012 Thus Far: 2-5 (0-4 in Pac-12)

Week 1: Won vs Northern Colorado (41-0)

Week 2: Lost @ Utah State (20-27)

Week 3: Won vs BYU (24-21)

Week 4: Lost @ Arizona State (7-37)

Week 5: Lost vs. USC (28-38)

Week 6: Lost @ UCLA (14-21)

Week 7: Lost @ Oregon State (7-21)

2012 OFFENSIVE STATS

Passing- 198.3 yards/game (94th)

Rushing- 105 yards/game (113th)

Scoring- 20.1 points/game (107th)

QB

STARTER: Travis Wilson, Freshman - 6'6, 220 lbs

Utah has done some unplanned shuffling at the QB position in the 2012 season. Incumbent starter Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in week 2, which then led to senior Jon Hays starting 3 games. True frosh Travis Wilson stepped in as the starter on the road against UCLA, and will be making his third start this weekend against us. On the season, Wilson is completing almost 65% of his passes for 490 yards, with 2 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions. While he did play in some spot duty prior to being tabbed as the starter, it's probably more useful to just look at his numbers in the games he's started (on the road against UCLA and Oregon State). In those two games, Wilson has completed 62% of his passes and thrown one touchdown to 3 interceptions, while being sacked 4 times. Wilson is a big guy at 6'6 and is pretty mobile, and Utah will often call designed QB runs for him to try and use that length...with limited success honestly. He's got a pretty strong arm, but his throwing motion is reminiscent of Phillip Rivers in that he seems to push the ball a bit. He displays the kind of inexperience you'd expect from a true frosh, but maybe some of that should be attributed to a run-game that has been mediocre thus far, an inconsistent offensive line, and an underperforming wide receiver corps. Wilson, with a little help, will be fine.

Upside: Size, arm, mobility, looks kinda scary in that pic?

Downside: Depth, experience, supporting cast

What to Expect:

This really depends on a couple things. Brian Johnson, Utah's young offensive coordinator, has been pretty stubborn about using the run to set up the pass. That's a dandy strategy if you have an effective running game. For the most part, Utah has not. As a result, Wilson has been put in some tough positions where he's throwing on 3rd and long and there's at least 7 defenders dropped back into coverage. A more ambitious playcalling scheme would help Wilson a lot. He's good enough, but he's received minimal support from his OC and the playmakers around him. If this is the game where the lightbulb goes off, he could move the ball a bit. He's got the arm to do it. I do feel that if we're doing a good job defending the run, it will be the key to stopping the Utes though. That should put more pressure on Wilson and I like our chances of forcing some turnovers if he's asked to do too much. Any of this sound a little familiar?

RB

STARTER: John White IV, Senior - 5'8, 188 lbs

After rushing for over 1500 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns in 2011, big things were expected of diminutive tough guy John White IV going into 2012. For whatever reason, he has failed to deliver thus far. In 6 games, White has rushed for 413 yards and 1 touchdown, at a very modest 3.79 yards per carry. He has surpassed 100 yards rushing in just one game, and that was against Northern Colorado in week 1. Versus FBS opponents, White is averaging less than 3 and a half yards per carry and only rushed for north of 70 yards in one game (against Utah State). He's been a little dinged up, but I'd attribute more of his struggles to poor offensive line play and a passing attack that hasn't been consistent enough to force defenses NOT to stack the box. Spelling White is JuCo transfer and former USC commit Kelvin York, who at 5'11 and 225 pounds is probably more suited for the inside running that White has struggled with this season. In fact, York is performing like the better of the two; rushing for 197 yards at over 5 yards per carry. He looked pretty good against both ASU and Oregon State and is probably the back that concerns me most. Unfortunately (for the Utes, not us), Utah hasn't been good enough running the ball to allow the rest of this offense to open up much.

Upside: Talent, past accomplishments?

Downside: Poor offensive line play

What to Expect:

Gotta stop them. The Utes may be stubborn when it comes to pounding the ball early and often. They ran the ball 45 times last week against Oregon State, and they were playing from behind for most of the game. I'd normally feel pretty good about our chances, as their running game has been pretty mediocre compared to last year. But we're a little dinged up on the defensive line after last week's pounding at the hands of the Furd. Make no mistake, this will not be anywhere near that kind of a task. But we're not at our best when key guys are hurt. Six guys in the box should be sufficient in stopping the run though, as I like our linemen and backers against Utah's O-line. We should be able to generate some push that will lead to some tackles in the backfield too. We don't want to be in a place where Utah is grinding out four or more yards per carry and creating manageable 3rd downs. If that's happening, we lose. Create a push up front, stick to run fits, and finish tackles. Do that, we'll be fine.

WR

STARTERS:

Dres Anderson, Sophomore - 6'1, 185 lbs

DeVonte Christopher, Senior - 6'1, 200 lbs

Kenneth Scott, Sophomore - 6'3, 202 lbs

Perhaps the most disappointing group on this offense. DeVonte Christopher (18 catches for 199 yards, 1 TD) was looked upon as a guy who could really make some plays and help open this offense up, but he's struggled with drops and mental lapses. With Christopher wallowing, Dres Anderson has stepped up as the leading receiver from this group with 22 catches for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns. He's utilized in the running game on fly sweeps as well, rushing for 43 yards on 7 carries. Both he and Christopher were held without a catch last week against Oregon State. Sophomore Kenneth Scott represents more of a deep threat, averaging almost 15 yards per catch and possessing good size and speed. Likely that seniors Luke Matthews (7 catches for 76 yards) and Reggie Dunn (9 catches for 62 yards) will also be used in some capacity on Saturday. This is a fairly deep group that is hardly devoid of talent, but they haven't played up to their ability thus far.

Upside: Potential?

Downside: Derpitude

What to Expect:

If the outcome of this game rests in the buttery hands of the Utah WR crops, that's a good thing. I think. There's enough talent here that I'd assume they'll stop fucking up eventually. I just hope it isn't this week. Anderson looks like the guy we'll need to be most attentive to, as he can make things happen. He looks like a good candidate to get the Steve Williams treatment this week. Christopher is dangerous, if he ever wakes the hell up. A healthy Marc Anthony and kam jackson at the nickel should be sufficient in coverage to keep this group quiet. Weird to say, but I'm actually pretty comfortable with our current secondary and how they match up with the Ute receivers. This isn't a passing attack that should be feared. Yet.


TE

STARTER: Jake Murphy, Sophomore - 6'4, 252 lbs

Murphy is the Utes' leading receiver this season, with 22 catches for 239 yards (almost 11 yards per reception) and 3 touchdowns. Wilson has treated him like a security blanket, and Murphy has hauled in 13 catches for 148 yards in the last 3 games. He's built well and does a good job using his physicality to get open. Murphy has struggled a bit with drops though...much like Utah's other receiving options. We will also see plenty of senior David Rolf (6'4, 250 lbs), who serves as an H-Back type of guy. Rolf has 6 catches for 68 yards on the year, but has only recorded 1 catch in the last 4 games. He's really more of a blocking back than anything else.

Upside: Targeted often, run-blocking

Downside: Derpitude

What to Expect:

After what Zach Ertz did to Josh Hill last week, I'm not ready to deal with this. Sorry.

OL

STARTERS:

LT- Sam Brenner, Senior - 6'4, 305 lbs

LG- Vyncent Jones, Junior - 6'3, 300 lbs

C- Tevita Stevens, Senior - 6'3, 300 lbs

RG- Miles Mason, Senior - 6'3, 300 lbs

RT- Jeremiah Poutasi, Freshman - 6'5, 322 lbs

This group is pretty long in the tooth, but they did lose probably their best 2011 lineman in Tony Bergstrom. That doesn't excuse or explain their struggles in 2012 though. Perhaps some of their issues could be attributed to a steady shuffling of personnel due to both injuries and inefftective play. At left tackle, Sam Brenner is a good player, but he started 12 games at guard in 2011 and is better there. He's playing left tackle out of necessity. Junior Vyncent Jones missed the USC and UCLA games with a knee injury, and will step in at left guard to replace starter Jeremiah Tofaeono, who was injured last week against Oregon State. Jones had played right guard previously. At center, Tevita Stevens is a solid player and the leader of this group. He started all 13 games at center in 2011 as well. Right guard Miles Mason started 11 games at left guard in 2011, but was playing so poorly early in 2012 that he wasn't even on the 2-deeps. He's worked his way back and will make his third consecutive start at right guard this weekend. True freshman Jeremiah Poutasi has started 5 games at right tackle for the Utes. He's a mountain of a man, but struggles getting out of his stance and speed rushers on the edge can give him problems. Again, this group has been in some flux with shifting personnel. They've surrendered just 16 sacks, but are paving the way (or not paving?) for a rushing attack that ranks 113th nationally. Disappointing by anyone's standards.

Upside: Pass-blocking

Downside: Run-blocking

What to Expect:

We should be able to win the matchup up front, if we're healthy enough to have our most important big bodies on the field. Sounds like we should, so that's good. Despite the fact that Utah will spread the field a bit, I'd like to see us keeping 6 defenders in the box and rushing 4 as often as possible. As I stated earlier, we'll need to nullify the run game and they may be persistent in trying to establish it. Putting a rush backer like McCain or Scarlett on the outside shoulder of right tackle Poutasi should result in pressure on Wilson. I like Deandre Coleman, Payne and Tipoti to generate some push up front, and some stunts should keep the Utes guessing. Forbes and Jefferson/Mullins need to bring their lunch pail to Salt lake City too, as they'll be put in a position where they'll need to fill gaps and make tackles. This offensive line can be victimized if we play big and aggressive. Whether we will is the question.

IN SUMMARY

This isn't a good offense, but it has the potential to be better. Wilson is a good quarterback that's gotten little help. A struggling offensive line has led to a struggling run game, which has absolutely killed Utah's productivity on offense...thanks to receivers who have been incapable of making plays when their team has needed them. If we keep their line on its heels and frustrated, good things should happen. We match up well with this offense...mostly because they aren't particularly good at any one thing. I don't think that changes much on Saturday.

Of course, this is a road game. At night. And it's on the heels of a massively deflating performance against a rival. Utah will be fired up and hungry for their first conference win. If it comes down to which team wants it more, might as well flip a coin. And as Nick pointed out yesterday, Utah's defense, while unspectacular, could cause some problems for our offense if we refuse to take advantage of our superior athletes and instead repeatedly run straight ahead into a wall of Polynesian blubber. If our offense sucks again, the defense will wear down. Bank it.

Either way, expect a low-scoring affair with both offenses struggling. This sure looks like a cripple fight to my tired eyes. We should win this game, but that doesn't mean anything.

Go Bears!

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