High expectations for Utah pass game after years of futility
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The Utah receiving corps has been a laughingstock in recent years and Tim Patrick is sick of it. The unit - and the passing game in general - has struggled to progress since the program joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
Utah's pass offense has ranked dead last in the conference three times in five seasons and was No. 11 in 2015. The high point was a No. 9 ranking in 2013, the only year of Pac-12 membership where the Utes have averaged more than 200 passing yards per game.
Patrick insisted 2016 will be different for Utah, which hosts Southern Utah in the season opener Thursday.
''Utah is known for being the worst passing team in the Pac-12,'' Patrick said. ''That's disrespectful to me and all the other receivers. To me, that's telling me that I suck and I don't belong in the Pac-12. So, it's for sure a chip on my shoulder. (We're) completely disrespected. When they talk about Utah, it's not Utah offense. It's Utah front-seven and Utah 22 picks last year. ... We're here to quiet that rumor down and let offense be the main priority of the team.''
Utah will have new starters at every offensive skill position, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the passing game. Transfer Troy Williams won the quarterback job and has been named a captain despite just arriving on campus in January. Patrick is healthy after injuries limited him to just 16 catches in 2014 and 2015. Tyrone Smith and slot receiver Kyle Fulks are listed as the other two starters, but Cory Butler-Byrd was a starter before being suspended because of a criminal mischief case.
There is concern because Utah will be without 2015 leading receiver Britain Covey, who left on a two-year Mormon church mission.
But with new receivers coach Guy Holliday leading the unit, expectations are high within the program.
''It's been a point of emphasis ever since last season ended,'' coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''It's gotten much more attention in practice than ever before. ... In practice, we're there. But that's just practice. Far more competitive nature by the receivers. Practicing with a great deal of intensity and purpose. Far fewer drops. Big play capability seems to be definitely on the rise.''
Whittingham said there is no one reason the group has improved and he credited Holliday for having a personality that fits well with this particular group. Some of the optimism comes from the sheer physical nature of the position. Patrick and Caleb Repp are both 6-foot-5 and Smith is 6-4 - and all have good speed for their size. Raelon Singleton is 6-3, 215 pounds.
''We might be the biggest receiving corps in the Pac-12,'' Patrick said. ''People will have problems getting the ball away from us.''
The Utes will break in a new full-time starting quarterback for the first time since 2012, but there doesn't seem to be much trepidation surrounding Williams. The Santa Monica College transfer was named the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit by Rivals.com in 2013 and he played five games at Washington before playing a season at the junior college.
He's got the athleticism to move but is a pocket-passer with enough arm to hit the deep ball. Whittingham said Williams was on track to be named the starter during the spring until an injury forced the competition into the fall.
''He's a guy that does everything you look for in a quarterback,'' Whittingham said.