View from the Booth: Plenty of questions surround this Ute squad

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 25 2012 7:49 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham during warmups as the Univeristy of Utah and Arizona State University play PAC 12 football Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Tempe, Arizona.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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"When you have a loss like that, it makes you again rethink everything you're doing and make sure you've got the best players on the field at each position."

— Kyle Whittingham

So here we are, four games into the college football season with the Utes on a bye week, and Utah is already at a bit of a crossroads. Which direction will Utah football take moving forward?

The season that began a month ago with so much promise now has more questions than answers. Utah has gone 4-6 in its first 10 Pac-12 games. While everyone in the Pac-12 South looks to be as good or better than a year ago, the question many Ute fans are asking is, are we?

Based on what we saw in the Pac-12 opener in Tempe, Ariz., it's hard to say the Utes are better than they were a year ago, but a season can't be judged by one game, especially if it's only four games into the season.

But Saturday night's loss was certainly telling and raises some very big questions about this Utah football team. Such as ...

Where are the explosive plays on offense? In the loss to Arizona State, the Sun Devils had 16 plays of 10 yards or more, while the Utes managed just four. Certainly credit goes to ASU for a good game plan, but Sparky came into the contest, at least on paper, with less experienced players at quarterback and wide receiver, yet found a way to make big play after big play.

The Utah offense features the top returning running back in the league, plus the best depth and athleticism at wide receiver in school history. It's imperative that Brian Johnson find a way to stretch the field for more "chunk" yards.

What's happened to John White? A year ago, the "Wolfman" became the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the inaugural Pac-12 season for Utah, ringing up a school-record 1,519 yards rushing. Through four games this season, White has just 233 yards and is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. His two fumbles last Saturday killed Utah drives and led to ASU points.

When I spoke with White on Monday, he talked about feeling more pressure and greater expectations this year. If that's the case, Utah's most consistent offensive weapon from a year ago needs to figure out how to deal with those expectations, as Utah's success on offense this season is dependent on White's ability to help move the chains.

Does Utah have the right bodies on the offensive line? This might be the biggest question of them all. It's hard to make explosive plays or expect an all-conference running back to duplicate last season's performance without solid play up front.

Everyone around Utah football knew that replacing John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom would be Utah's toughest job in the offseason. Utah brought in a pair of JC linemen to help, but Marc Pouvave tore his Achilles before the season and Carlos Lozano wasn't able to get to an adequate playing weight.

So new offensive line coach Dan Finn has had to try to plug the gaps by moving players around, so far to mixed results. Utah appears to have found its right tackle for the future in true freshman Jeremiah Poutasi, who has the look of a Pac-12 tackle. Finn needs his unit to find some cohesion over the next eight days to help the offense begin to settle into a rhythm, because everything starts up front.

Lots of questions, and only time will provide the answers. The good news is that there are eight days to get ready for the next Pac-12 foe, and Whittingham is 6-1 in his career coming off bye weeks. The conference season still holds eight more opportunities for the Utes.

The question is what will Utah do with those chances?

Bill Riley is the co-host of the Bill and Hans Show weekdays from 2-6 p.m on ESPN 700 AM. You can follow Bill on Twitter @espn700bill.

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