Utah poised to make a move in the Pac-12 South
If any team has a path to make a move up in the Pac-12 South, it’s Utah.
While the two Los Angeles teams adjust to new quarterbacks, and the Arizona teams (and UCLA) break in new coaches, steady Utah has nine starters back on offense, including quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. Not to mention continuity at the helm with coach Kyle Whittingham.
“I think we’ve a lot going for us coming this fall,” Whittingham said. “We have a good situation at quarterback. A running back, four of our five starting offensive linemen back, talented kids on defense, solid special teams.”
Unlike some of the other teams in the Pac-12 South that are in the midst of big changes, the Utes are building under Whittingham, who is embarking on his 15th season as head coach. The preseason Pac-12 poll projected the Utes to finish second in the south, behind USC.
Utah was 7-6 overall and 3-6 in conference last season, sliding a bit from the previous three seasons. But the Utes ended on a good note, beating West Virginia 30-14 in the Dallas Bowl.
Whittingham acknowledged that the next step would be for the Utes to reach the conference title game.
“I’ve heard it over and over we’re the only team in the South since we joined the league that hasn’t gotten there. But we own up to that. We’re not trying to hide from that. It’s just something that needs to happen,” the coach said.
To get there, the Utes will depend on Huntley, who is entering his second season under offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Troy Taylor.
Huntley threw for 2,411 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, while also running for 537 yards and six TDs. Whittingham said he sees growing maturity and confidence.
MOSS BULKS UP: Moss came into fall camp heavier than in the past, now weighing in at 220 — adding an element of bulk to his speed.
Last season he grabbed attention by rushing for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
“I’m trying not to be the same player as last year, knowing the expectations,” he said. “It’s been making me work a little harder this summer, mentally and physically.”
CHASING CHASE: Chase Hansen’s career started at Utah in 2012 as a quarterback. It will end this season as a linebacker. The versatile playmaker’s college career included a hiatus for a mission and struggles with injuries, as well as a stint at safety.
Utah hopes his final season turns out to be his most productive.
“He’s 235 pounds or bigger right now, so his future at the next level, and his best fit for us, we felt, was going to be a linebacker. His job description at safety was part linebacker. It was about a situation where he was probably down in the box 60 percent of the time anyway,” Whittingham said.
FOR KICKS: Utah sports one of the best kicking duos in the nation. Matt Gay was a walk-on in 2017 and went on to win the Lou Groza Award. He missed just four field goals all season and during this fall camp he hit a 60-yarder. Then there’s senior punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who was the Ray Guy award winner in 2016 and a finalist last season.
OUTLOOK: The Utes will open at home Sept. 1 against lower-tier Weber State. They’ll travel to face Northern Illinois before their Pac-12 opener at home against Washington. Utah also gets USC at home.
The Utes’ third nonconference game will be at home over Thanksgiving weekend against BYU. The Colorado rivalry game is the previous weekend.