It’s time for our weekly look at UW’s opponent, which this week is the University of Utah. So for our Five Questions, Five Answers blog entry, we turn to Lya Wodraska, who covers the Utes for the Salt Lake Tribune. And you can follow her at @LyaWodraska.
As always, our questions, her answers:
Q1: It looks from afar like Utah is coming together and rallying a bit in the second half of the season as it did a year ago. Are there some similarities there and what is Utah done better the last few games?
A1: Utah has streamlined its offense which has not only helped the players but also first-year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Johnson said going into the season he wanted an offense that utilized all the players’ talents, but what I believe happened was the Utes tried to do too much and the result was poor execution and no identity. The Utes have simplified things and are focusing on getting the ball more now to running back John White, which has helped. Having passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick in the booth has helped, too. He has been there the last two games, with Johnson going down on the field, which has resulted in a better tempo with the offense. Roderick sees things very quickly.
Q2: How has freshman quarterback Travis Wilson begun to adjust to being the starting quarterback and has the offense changed much around him?
A2: I believe the two wins have helped Wilson more than any other player. Granted the competition wasn’t the elite of the Pac-12, but Wilson now has more confidence and really was able to get into a groove against Washington State. The outcome was decided early, so he could focus on getting his feel for the offense in a ‘real’ game, even if the Cougars weren’t much of an opponent.
Q3: Going into the season, many talked about Utah having maybe the best defensive front in the conference. Has it played like that so far?
A3: The defensive front did struggle early, particularly with the Utes’ inability to get to the quarterback. However, defensive end Joe Kruger is healthy now and is coming off his best game. The Utes had six sacks against Washington State and will want to see that kind of pressure the rest of the year. Star Lotulelei had some high expectations coming into the season and the tackle has lived up to them. He is a beast in the center of a very good line.
Q4: Reggie Dunn (pictured above in an AP photo) has had three 100-yard kickoff returns in the past two weeks. How has that happened?
A4: Dunn has a history of being good on kick returns and has ranked high in the Pac-12 in that category the last two seasons. But he is on a roll now, really feeling it. No way Washington should kick to the guy.
Q5: Finally, Utah is in its second year in the Pac-12 Conference. It sounds like some down there are thinking the adjustment has been a little rougher than might have been expected. Is that an accurate perception, and if so, are there any reasons for that?
A5: I do think some fans though the Utes would come into the Pac-12 and immediately compete for a league title. That would be expecting too much though and coach Kyle Whittingham has said all along this is a multi-year process. This team needs time to grow and time to recruit Pac-12 talent and depth. Give them two or three years to get up to speed.