Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Brian Johnson’s first season as Utah’s offensive coordinator is proving to be quite a challenge. After seven games, the Utes sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 in total offense (303.29 ypg) and second-to-last in passing offense (198.29 ypg), rushing offense (105 ypg) and scoring offense (20.14 ppg).
The sluggish start — compounded by three starting quarterbacks, offensive line woes, an injury to running back John White, 30 percent success on third downs, 16 sacks allowed and a dozen turnovers — has taken a toll. Utah enters Saturday’s home game against California with a 2-5 record, including an 0-4 mark in Pac-12 play.
Despite all the shortcomings, Johnson is confident things will turn around soon.
“Absolutely. I think we’ve got the personnel to do it. It’s just a matter of putting it all together, all 11 guys being on the same page and finishing drives,” Johnson said. “We’ve moved the ball. We’ve got to find ways to put it in the end zone.”
Utah’s offense has only had one scoring drive in each of the past two games. The Utes have just six, in fact, over their four Pac-12 games this season.
Johnson said little mental errors and mistakes, details and execution are holding the Utes back.
“As soon as we get that going I feel confident that we'll get it turned around," Johnson said. "At the end of the day it’s about making plays and putting your guys in position to make plays. That has to be the focus."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that there’s always work to do and it’s a continual search for answers.
“It's a tough business at times,” he said. “You know that going in and if you're not tough-minded you won't last in this business."
As for Johnson, Whittingham thinks he’s holding up well.
"(It’s) baptism by fire, and lots of people go through it. He's a tough kid, though. He's tough,” Whittingham said. "There's a learning curve any time you're a first-year coordinator. But he's exceptionally smart, exceptionally bright, and he'll learn a great deal from this season."
And that’s not all. The 25-year-old, who is the youngest coordinator in major college football, is getting something else out of the experience.
"I've aged. There's no uncertainty about that at all,” Johnson said before re-affirming his determination to get Utah’s offense operating at a high level. “Whatever you've got to do to turn it around is what I'm willing to do and what I will do to make sure that it happens."
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