RoJack: Utah football coach Dennis Erickson is bringing offensive identity back to the hill

By Robert Jackson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 8:55 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — After watching the Utes' annual spring game last Saturday, it is hard to imagine that Utah's offense has been among the college football's worst over the last two seasons.

Both the Red and White team offenses combined for a whopping 797 yards in a scrimmage about half the duration of a normal football game, more than double what the Utes averaged per game in 2012.

The difference? Two things quickly come to mind — a healthy quarterback (Utah hasn't had a returning starter finish a season since Brian Johnson in 2008) and an offensive identity, which even the most optimistic Ute can agree has been absent since the Utes transitioned into the Pac-12.

Enter Dennis Erickson, Utah's new co-offensive coordinator. While Erickson is now the sixth coordinator that the Utes have had in that position in six seasons, he is quickly making his mark rebuilding the Utes into the offense power that they used to be.

There are two things that you can generally associate with Utah football — bowl wins and a great defense. But once upon a time Utah actually had a great offense too. It might be difficult to remember those days after one of the worst football seasons in recent history. In 2012, Utah ranked 105th out of 120 in total offense, finishing with a 5-7 record and ending a streak of nine consecutive bowl appearances.

It is true, though. Just nine years ago the Utes touted one of the nation's best offenses.

Carrying the slogans of "Fasten Your Seatbelts" and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," Urban Meyer took the Mountain West by storm in 2003-04, finishing his short two-year stint with the Utes with the third best scoring offense in the country — and a BCS busting Fiesta Bowl win.

That offensive success carried over into 2005, Kyle Whittingham's first year at the helm. The Utes continued to be an offensive juggernaut, averaging 488.5 yards per game, good for tenth best in the nation.

Even in 2008, the Utes were incredibly efficient on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 15th in the country in scoring offense with 36.9 points per game, capping the year with a resounding BCS bowl win over Alabama.

While the Utes had their share of struggles over the last few years with injuries at quarterback and inconsistency at the coordinator position, the drawbacks were short lived, and the team was able to bounce back the following season. What makes the Utes' first two years in the Pac-12 so concerning is that the Utes haven't been able to bounce back since they joined the league. In fact, they have ranked near the bottom of the conference in nearly every offensive category.

Indeed, over the last decade, Utah's offense has seen more ups and downs than my car going over all the potholes on Redwood Road.

Now, with a few scheme tweaks from Dennis Erickson, Utah's offense seems to be back on track.

"The defense was watered down, but it's been watered down for years and we haven't had this kind of offensive production," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.

While it is good to keep expectations realistic, it is comforting to know that the Utes' offense is at least heading in the right direction.

Erickson said it best at a recent practice, "I'm excited about this team. We have a chance to be pretty decent."

Based on the offense that they have had to watch the last two seasons, fans have to be ecstatic for the positive momentum.

Robert Jackson is the online sports director for ksl.com and contributes to Utah coverage on DeseretNews.com. He has covered the Utes since 2008. Follow him on Twitter: @rojackksl

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