Utah Utes football: First-year coordinator Brian Johnson is determined to get the Utes' offense rolling
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Since becoming major college football's youngest coordinator this season, 25-year-old Brian Johnson is getting less shuteye.
"That's probably the biggest difference," he said. "I've gotten a lot less sleep. But that's what's required to make sure you're getting everything done."
Taking care of business is first and foremost on Johnson's mind as Utah's offensive coordinator. Things, however, haven't exactly taken off yet. After five games at the helm, the Utes are ranked last in the Pac-12 in total offense (299.40 ypg) and 11th in both passing (194.40 ypg) and rushing (105 ypg).
"We've got to find ways to execute. We've got to be able to make plays. And obviously there's a ton of room for improvement," Johnson said. "I'm not naive to that fact at all and I'm looking forward to turning it around."
Hard work ends up paying off, he added, and the Utes will get things fixed and turned around.
"We'd obviously like to see a ton more production, but we've got to understand the situation we're in and the only way we can do it is to have sustained drives," Johnson said. "We can't go three-and-out and we've got to convert third downs at a higher rate."
Entering Saturday's game at UCLA, Utah has converted on just 22-of-74 third downs. Increased production in those circumstances is the primary area of emphasis as the Utes work to get on track offensively.
Johnson is determined to do a better job of managing first and second downs in order to create more manageable third-down scenarios. Improving the latter, he explained, requires better execution on down and distance.
"We'll get everything fixed and get it squared away," said Johnson, who noted the Utes have a ton of good guys and coaches who will find ways to battle through the offense's current struggles.
As the offensive coordinator, Johnson knows he's ultimately responsible for finding solutions. It's a role the winningest quarterback in school history (26 victories as a starter) is tackling with the big picture in mind.
"I enjoy coming to work every day. Obviously everything is a lot more fun when you win," said Johnson, who replaced Norm Chow as offensive coordinator after two seasons as Utah's quarterbacks coach. "But the positive thing is we've still got seven opportunities left to get this thing turned around."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham saw improvement in last week's 38-28 loss to USC. Whittingham credited the offense for being more of what he envisioned and praised Johnson for doing a nice job of trying to maximize personnel.
"I never make an evaluation on coaches until the end of the season. I don't give mid-year grade reports or anything like that, but I think he's progressing," Whittingham said. "We've had some challenges offensively that makes play-calling at times not the easiest thing to do, particularly with the shuffling of the offensive line and some things of that nature. But when you look at it as a whole, I think we're making good progress."
Whittingham noted that Johnson is holding up just fine. Wide receiver Dres Anderson agrees.
"He's just keeping his cool, keeping everything together, just motivating us to do great and execute," Anderson said.
Quarterback Jon Hays also praised Johnson's approach.
"I think he's handled everything well and he's a great teacher," Hays said. "I've learned a lot from him and I look forward to learning more this week."
Johnson, though, is also aware that fan and media criticism exists — same as it did during his playing days.
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