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2015 Pac-12 Football: A Utah Q & A

A UCLA head coach once famously said (paraphrased): "Punting is winning." Has Utah adopted the same mindset? Adam McKee and HuskyandUte of Block U, SB Nation's Utah Utes community, check in with us for a Q & A on the 2015 edition of football at the University of Utah.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

1) What is the most important position of worry for you, and why is it quarterback?

Adam McKee: Of course it's quarterback, he's the most important player on the field and recently Utah hasn't had any consistency from the position. How many schools haven't had a quarterback play an entire season since 2008? Travis Wilson will in all likelihood be the starter come the season opener, but there are no guarantees he will remain the no. 1 guy throughout the season. Kendal Thompson will return from a knee injury in time for fall and will likely push for playing time. The two went back and forth last season as starters, with the coaching staff never really settling on a clear no.1 guy until Thompson went down with his injury against Oregon. Obviously the saying is if you've got two quarterbacks you've got none, so it would be nice to see either of those guys, I don't care which at this point, step up and be "the guy". Utah consistently has a great defense and the running game should be good with Devontae Booker returning, all Utah needs to take the next step is some consistent quarterback play.

HuskyandUte: I definitely think quarterback is the position of biggest concern. Utah finished dead last in passing yards last season. In three of Utah's four losses last season, Utah quarterbacks threw for under 200 yards and had one or fewer passing touchdowns (it was only against Oregon that this was not the case). Utah will face against Jared Goff, who I believe will be the best quarterback in the Pac-12 next fall, so Utah will need to move the ball through the air. Cal (and many other teams in the Pac-12) have too much offensive firepower for Utah to consistently win with poor play behind center. Brian Johnson in 2008 was the last Utah quarterback to start every game in one season. With Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson both starting games last season, it seems likely that in 2015 both quarterbacks will see time.

2) Which player should Cal fans worry about who will torture our souls next season?

Adam McKee: The obvious answer is Devontae Booker. The running back rushed for over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and wasn't even the starter until the fourth game of the season. I'm going to switch it up however and say linebacker Gionni Paul is the player that will give Cal nightmares. Paul was a touted recruit that transferred to Utah from Miami, and saw his first action with the Utes last season. Paul only played in nine games last year, but led the team with 4 interceptions and recorded 61 tackles. He is an obvious difference maker for a defense that is already stacked, and has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time.

HuskyandUte: Devontae Booker and Gionni Paul are both players who could give Cal headaches, but the player I am going with is punter Tom Hackett. It may seem weird to think that a punter can cause a team problems, but Hackett can. He won the 2014 Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter. Hackett has a knack for pinning a team deep in their own territory, forcing them to drive the length of the field on Utah's tough defense. This can wear a team down. He also converted two fourth downs on fake punts last season.

3) Tell us about your coach and why you dislike him.

Adam McKee: Dislike Whittingham? Never! With Mike Reilly's departure from Oregon State, Whittingham is the longest tenured head coach in the Pac-12. He has been with the program since 1994 when he started as the defensive line coach and has moved his way up the ranks taking over the head job in 2005. Having a defensive background, he always fields a great defense though the offense is sometimes shaky. More importantly Whittingham has installed a family atmosphere around the program and is able to keep players out of trouble for the most part. No complaints with the head man.

HuskyandUte: Kyle Whittingham is entering his 11th year as Utah's head coach (the longest tenure of any Pac-12 head coach). He was the head coach of Utah's undefeated Sugar Bowl winning season in 2008 and has led Utah into the Pac-12 era well. Whittingham is one of the best defensive minds in football. Having said that, there is one complaint I have with Whittingham: the mismanagement of Utah's offensive coordinator. Including this upcoming season, Utah has had eight different OCs in the last eight seasons. Utah has switched between pro-style and spread offenses, changed the tempo of the offense (often midseason), and changed terminology. The lack of consistency has hurt Utah's offense especially in the Pac-12.

4) How do your fans view Cal this season, and why do you love us so much?

Adam McKee: I think Utah fans view Cal as a prolific passing team that can be dangerous but isn't quite a contender yet. Sonny Dykes seems to have the program on the right track. Obviously Jared Goff is a name people are familiar with. Cal always seems to have great athletes at the skill positions and the ability to put points on the board is definitely a concern from a Utah fan's perspective. If a game turns into a shootout Cal always has a chance with Goff slinging it. Football aside, what's not to love about Berkeley?

HuskyandUte: I think Utah fans are underrating Cal this season. To me, a lot of Utah fans seem to know Cal can throw the ball well but see the game as a win for Utah. Utah has trouble with prolific passing teams that put up a lot of yards and points. Utah tends to try to win games with defense, field position, and running the football, so if the game against Cal turns into a shoot out, that does not favor Utah. As a Seahawks fan, I am eternally grateful to Cal for Marshawn Lynch.

5) What were your biggest questions heading into spring practice? Were they addressed during the spring?

Adam McKee: Heading into spring the biggest question for me, was whether or not our receivers could catch the ball. Utah has been plagued in recent years with receivers dropping passes with nothing but green in front of them. The Utes have speed at the receiver position with guys like Delshawn Mclellon and Kenric Young, but they can't do anything with out catching the ball first. They looked alright during the spring, but we really won't know anything until they take the field in a real game.

HuskyandUte: I agree with Adam, wide receivers were my biggest concern as well. Utah lost two of their top receivers from last year in Dres Anderson and Kaelin Clay. I don't feel totally confident in the wide receivers heading into fall, but I feel a lot better before spring. Redshirt freshman Raelon Singleton returned from a season ending injury and looked really good in spring. Former running back turned slot receiver Bubba Poole did some nice things as well. I wanted to see more out of guys like Delshawn McClellon and Kenric Young. Until guys like Deniko Carter, Kyle Fulks, and a few freshmen arrive, we won't truly know what Utah's wide receiving corps will look like this season.

6) What are your biggest needs for improvement after the spring?

Adam McKee: Biggest need for improvement I think continues to be Utah's passing attack. The running game is set with Devontae Booker. Both quarterbacks Wilson and Thompson are good runners as well, so the read option should again be part of the offense. The passing game needs to get better for the Utes to really take it to the next level however. Thompson struggled at time last season because defenses simply didn't respect his arm and loaded the box. Wilson can sling it, but seemed last year to focus too hard on not throwing an interception. A positive sign is Wilson has improved every year and with it being his senior season, maybe this is the year he puts it all together.

HuskyandUte: It is definitely the passing game. Utah had three games last season with under 100 yards passing. Utah can run the football and play defense, but they need a consistent passing attack if they want to win the Pac-12. Both quarterbacks have limitations and were hampered at times by a wide receiving corps that dropped far too many passes. Utah will need better play from both the quarterback(s) and wide receivers in 2015 for the passing game to improve.

7) Post-season analysis: Your team is going to be a Contender, Pretender, or Middle of the Pac?

Adam McKee: Utah has maybe the best running back in the Pac-12, another nasty defense, and with this being year five of Pac-12 membership, a full assortment of Pac-12 caliber players. This team should be a contender. Last year felt like the players finally figured out how to win a close game. This is a senior laden team that has a lot of experience. Most fans and people close to the program, expect this team to build on last seasons 9-4 record and potentially have a breakout year in 2015.

HuskyandUte: I think Utah is middle of the pack. Utah has a lot of talent on defense, but there is serious depth concern with the linebackers, and Utah is relying on Tevin Carter and Reggie Porter in the secondary who both missed most (Carter) or all (Porter) of last season. There is solid depth behind them in the secondary. I also do not think Utah can truly challenge the top teams in the Pac-12 without much of a passing game. Booker is a great running back, but without a passing game, teams will stack the box to try to stop him. Utah needs to be able to keep defenses at least sort of honest to prevent Booker having to run against 7, 8, or even 9 men in the box. I think Utah can be a contender if players stay healthy and they develop a passing attack, but I need to see the team take strides throwing the ball before I truly believe they are a contender.

8) Who do you want to punch in the face?

Adam McKee: Sepp Blatter. You know, with the slavery and all.

HuskyandUte: Professional soccer players who flop.