Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t mince his words after taking the stage at Pac-12 media days. He quickly addressed the fact that the past couple of seasons have been tough for the Utes.
Back-to-back 5-7 campaigns ended a nine-year bowl run for the program.
Uncharacteristic, Whittingham acknowledged.
“So we’re determined to get ourselves back on track this year and get things headed back in the right direction,” he said.
In an effort to turn things around, Whittingham hired former Missouri offensive coordinator and Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen to ignite a stagnant offense. The Utes want to play fast and there’s a great sense of urgency to do so.
“Dave’s come in and done a great job transitioning,” Whittingham said. “His philosophy is very much in line. That’s going to be the biggest difference for our players.”
Utah’s offense ranked 11th in the Pac-12 last season with 396.6 yards per game.
OFFENSE: Christensen takes over a crew headlined by 1,000-yard receiver Dres Anderson. Other pass-catching targets include junior Kenneth Scott, who missed all of 2013 with an injury, and senior transfer Kaelin Clay. Sophomores Delshawn McClellon and Dominique Hatfield are also in the mix.
Junior Travis Wilson is the front-runner at quarterback, having been cleared to play after missing the final three games last season with an intracranial artery injury. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson is expected to give chase.
Bubba Poole, who led the Utes with 607 yards rushing as a sophomore, is back at running back. Junior college transfer Devontae Booker and redshirt freshman Troy McCormick are others to watch.
Four offensive linemen have starting experience.
DEFENSE: Senior defensive end Nate Orchard anchors a defensive line that is expected to continue a tradition of reloading. Sophomore Hunter Dimick and junior Jason Fanaika shared the top spot at right end on the pre-camp depth chart. Junior Viliseni Fauonuku and senior Sese Ianu man the tackle spots.
At linebacker, juniors Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham may be joined as starters by sophomore Uaea Masina.
The secondary’s top storyline is the return of strong safety Brian Blechen. The senior did not play last season because of injury. Fellow seniors Eric Rowe or Tevin Carter will be at free safety. Rowe could also see action at cornerback, where senior Davion Orphey and sophomore Reginald Porter are projected starters. Sophomore Justin Thomas is the No. 1 nickel back.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Utah has a pair of All-American candidates in junior punter Tom Hackett and sophomore kicker Andy Phillips. Hackett led the Pac-12 with 43.4 yards per punt, 3,300 total punt yards, 27 punts inside the 20 and 19 punts of 50 yards or greater. Phillips topped the conference with 80 percent field goal accuracy from 40 yards and out.
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