Utah has to improve its offense to be contender

Yahoo! Sports Staff
Yahoo! Sports

Utah's first season in the "big leagues" went relatively well, though an inexplicable loss in the regular-season finale to Colorado kept the Utes out of the league's title game.

The defense more than held up its end. The Utes were in the top three in the league in total defense, rush defense and pass efficiency defense and led the league in scoring defense. The offense was the problem.

Jordan Wynn's ability to stay healthy will go a long way toward determining Utah's success.
(US Presswire)

Utah at-a-glance

Coach: Kyle Whittingham (8th season)
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-5 in Pac-12
Spring practice dates: March 21-April 21
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (9): G Sam Brenner, WR DeVonte Christopher, WR Reggie Dunn, QB Jon Hays, G Miles Mason, WR Luke Matthews, TE Kendrick Moeai, C Tevita Stevens, TB John White
Defense (6): SS Brian Blechen, E Joe Kruger, T Dave Kruger, CB Ryan Lacy, T Star Lotulelei, FS Eric Rowe
Special teams (2): K Coleman Peterson, P Sean Sellwood

While JC transfer John White rushed for 1,519 yards and 15 TDs, the passing offense was tepid. The Utes threatened no one with their downfield attack, and too much of the offensive burden was placed on White and the line.

Coordinator Norm Chow left to become coach at Hawaii, and quarterback coach Brian Johnson, a former Utes signal-caller, was promoted to coordinator. Johnson, 25, will be the youngest coordinator in the nation. He is expected to add in some elements of the spread attack he ran so well at Utah. The skill-position guys appear to be in place, but getting consistent quarterback play is going to be the key.

The biggest defensively this spring is rebuilding the linebacker corps, both starters and backups.

Tom Cella of UteZone.com – a Rivals.com website that covers Utah – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

The biggest problem: Quarterback. Can junior Jordan Wynn remain healthy and lead a productive offense under first-year coordinator Brian Johnson? Utah has had five coordinators in the past five seasons, and developing consistency at quarterback position will be a high priority. Johnson, a former Utes quarterback who was promoted from quarterback coach, plans on tweaking the offense to make it more spread-oriented, but Wynn isn't all that mobile. Also in the mix will be true freshmen Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen, both of whom enrolled early and are expected to give Wynn spring competition. Senior Jon Hays also returns after starting nine games last season following Wynn's season-ending shoulder injury.

On the spot: CB Keith McGill. McGill, a senior, has not lived up to the hype he brought with him from Cerritos (Calif.) College. McGill was recruited as a safety, but after making only 12 tackles in six games last season, he needs to increase his production. Adding to the pressure is a position change to cornerback. McGill, who was thought to have NFL talent, will be expected to step up and perform this spring.

On the verge: LB V.J. Fehoko. Fehoko, a sophomore, is poised to be a star this season. He played in nine games as a redshirt freshman last season and wowed coaches with his aggressive play and hard hits. Fehoko was a four-star recruit out of Hawaii in 2010 and appears to be living up to the hype. Look for him to solidify his starting spot this spring and lead the linebacking corps.

General overview: Simply put, the Utes must see offensive progress this spring. Johnson isn't proposing wholesale changes in the playbook or terminology, but things will change and finding playmakers and a winning quarterback who is tough enough to last a whole season will be the priorities.

For in-depth coverage of Utah athletics, go to UteZone.com

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Kansas has right ingredients to shake March curse and keep on 'dancing'
Some say Mariners' Jesus Montero is a laughable catcher … he wants to prove otherwise
Dan Wetzel podcast: Peyton Manning's impact; thoughts on NCAA tournament

What to Read Next