While his University of Utah football team was resting last week, Head Coach Ron McBride was anything but idle. He packed his game films and flew to California, hoping to solve The Great Mystery of the Disappearing Offense. Upon returning to Salt Lake City, McBride tinkered with the offense, tore out part of the playbook and put in some overtime with his offensive linemen.
Today he'll see if his efforts made a difference. The Utes, healthier and fresher after a bye week, will play the University of Texas-El Paso at noon in Rice Stadium.The Utes will be trying to claim their first home win and first conference win of the season - and end a four-game losing streak. It should happen.
The Miners are among the nation's worst teams in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. In other words, they might be just the thing for a Utah offense that:
- ranks dead last in the Western Athletic Conference in rushing and scoring.
- ranks 105th nationally in rushing.
- has scored just 12 touchdowns all season - and a mere five touchdowns in the last 17 quarters of play.
- has made one field goal in the last four games.
- has thrown three touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
For all of the above reasons, McBride flew to San Jose, Calif., on Oct. 8 to visit with Claude Gilbert, the former San Diego State/San Jose State coach who helped pioneer the very offense that the Utes are trying to establish.
Hoping that Gilbert could spot the Utes' deficiencies, McBride spent 11/2 days watching films and talking shop with Gilbert. "The first day we talked about the offensive philosophy - where it started, how it was conceived," says McBride. "The second day we went through every game on film. He told me the things he saw, some of the avenues he thought we could go, ways to improve protection."
McBride also spent another seven hours with the San Jose State coaches, discussing the offense and watching their films and practices.For obvious reasons, McBride doesn't want to say exactly what changes he has made in the Ute offense as a result of his meetings with Gilbert. But he will say that he has made some adjustments, particularly in the offensive line, and that he has simplified the playbook. Tackle Mike DeHoog says, "A lot of gimmicks have been taken out. It's just basic run right, run left. It can't get any simpler."
"I made some changes, and I think it will help us," says McBride. "I did the same thing last year when we were struggling at Arizona (where he was an assistant coach at the time). During a bye week I went to Colorado - which ran the same offense we did - and picked up some things that made a difference in our season."
McBride has become increasingly involved with the offense in recent weeks, taking a hands-on approach that is rare among Division 1 head coaches these days. In addition to his head coaching duties, McBride has taken charge of the offensive line during the past month. After returning from San Jose and a quick trip to Los Angeles - where he scouted several prep and junior college offensive linemen - McBride returned to Salt Lake City to work out his offensive line, which is considered the weakest part of the team. While the rest of the team practiced only on Wednesday and Thursday last week, McBride had his linemen practice two hours on both Saturday and Sunday.
"We just worked on basic fundamentals and techniques, things that will help them get better," says McBride.
Says DeHoog, "It was just two hours of fundamentals - quickness drills, pass sets, mirror drills, footwork. The offensive line is (McBride's) pride and joy."
McBride's pride and joy had a rough afternoon in Utah's last outing, against Colorado State. Quarterback Jason Woods was sacked seven times and sustained a concussion and sprained ligaments in his throwing hand.
"We'll probably start Jason (against UTEP), unless his hand is bothering him," said Offensive Coordinator Dan Henson late Friday afternoon. "But who knows, maybe tonight I'll change my mind. We'll probably go with Jason and see what happens."