View from the Booth: Few rewards yet, as Utes grow into new digs
"We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds."
— Warren Buffett
I'm not sure that Utah fans and Ute football coaches would necessarily agree with the Oracle of Omaha right now. The process of building a competitive Pac-12 football program is proving to be a bit more challenging than most thought it would be before the season began.
Right now there are very few proceeds to go with the building process. To say that it's been a struggle in Pac-12 play so far this season might be an understatement. The Utes are off to their worst start in conference play since the end of the Ron McBride era in 2002.
There are certainly tangible reasons for Utah's awful start, with injuries to key players (Jordan Wynn, Keith McGill, Charles Henderson and Dallin Rogers) at the top of the list. But as Kyle Whittingham will tell you, nobody cares or cuts you any slack for injuries and every team has them.
In the case of the Utes, however, Wynn's injury is the biggest single reason Utah is struggling right now. While Jordan Wynn wasn't going to be confused for Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, he was still a very capable QB with game experience against quality competition.
There is no substitute for those traits, as Utah fans have seen after watching junior college transfer Jon Hays fill in for the injured Wynn. Hays is a good, hard-working kid, but clearly is struggling with the speed of the Division I and Pac-12 game. At this point Utah has to hope that Hays can simply protect the football (Hays has accounted for nine turnovers in his last four games) and get the ball to teammates who can make plays.
So, as the building process continues for Whittingham and his staff, here are three key areas where the Utes must get better and more talented in to compete moving forward in the Pac-12.
Quarterback play. I'm stating the obvious here, but Utah's quarterback situation is a bit of a mess right now. How the Utes got here doesn't matter. What they will do moving forward does. It looks to be the Jon Hays Show for the rest of the season. As the Utes head to the spring they will have two big-time QB prospects coming into the program, high school standouts Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen. Tyler Shreve will enter his second season in the program, plus the potential return of Jordan Wynn. Don't discount the possibility of a junior college QB entering the fold, too.
Offensive line: Utah has traditionally had excellent offensive line play in both the WAC and MWC. As they've made the move to the Pac-12 this season though, the play of the O-line has struggled to get push and in many cases (Washington and Cal) they've been beaten physically. Offensive line coach Tim Davis is the right guy for this rebuilding job; he's coached recently at USC and knows what it takes to build and sustain a Pac-12 caliber offensive line.
Speed and size for the playmakers: Right now the Utes really have only two proven playmakers on offense — DeVonte Christopher and John White. Christopher goes 6-foot-1 and White 5-foot-8. Both are very good players but every team that Utah has faced in the Pac-12 has more playmakers and guys who are bigger and many times faster.
Just last weekend against Cal, their top three wideouts all went 6-foot-3 or taller. Both USC and Arizona State had multiple playmaking running backs. This is where Utah must get to in the near future.
There are some potential stars waiting in the wings with Anthony Denham (6-4), Josh Gordon (6-4) and emerging Kenneth Scott (6-3) beginning to see some time on the field.
Those around the Utah football program knew it would be a process to become a contender in their new conference. There wasn't any illusion that they would step in and dominate right away. Like anything else, it takes time. The real question is how much time and when will Ute fans begin to see the proceeds of the process.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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