We’ve been so close the last three years. We feel we’ve played good defense, we’re playing good special teams, we’re running the ball effectively. But we feel what’s really held us back is a more potent throwing game and that’s why Troy was brought on board. —Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, on new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor
SALT LAKE CITY — Pace isn’t the priority when it comes to what Utah coach Kyle Whittingham envisions for the Utes under new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor.
“Tempo is way overrated. It’s all about execution,” Whittingham said. “You can operate at many tempos. The tempo is a distant second to your execution. So what’s important is that we execute.”
Especially when it comes to passing the ball. Utah finished in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in numerous categories. The Utes, who were seventh in total offense (430.7 ypg), were eighth in scoring offense (29.8u ppg), ninth in passing offense (216.7 ypg), 10th in pass efficiency (120.8 rating) and 11th in red zone offense (77.8 percent).
Shoring up the shortcomings, Whittingham explained, is all about trying to make a breakthrough and get to the Pac-12 championship game for the first time. Utah has won 28 games during the past three seasons, however, only finished on top of the South Division once — a tie with USC in 2015.
“We’ve been so close the last three years,” Whittingham said. “We feel we’ve played good defense, we’re playing good special teams, we’re running the ball effectively. But we feel what’s really held us back is a more potent throwing game and that’s why Troy was brought on board.”
In doing so, Whittingham parted ways with longtime assistant Aaron Roderick.
“Aaron’s been on our staff for a lot of years and helped us win a lot of football games and those decisions are never easy,” he said. “But my responsibility is first and foremost to the players in the program and my obligation is to make sure to put us in the best position to try to win games, continue to improve and get better.
“So that’s why the move was made. We’ve got to get better throwing the football and that was really the long and short of it,” Whittingham explained.
Taylor brings a lot to the table as Utah’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. As a player, he played QB at California before heading to the NFL’s New York Jets. His coaching career includes stints at Colorado and Cal, as well as high school ball in California. At Folsom High his teams set numerous passing records. Among the players Taylor coached was Washington quarterback Jake Browning.
Taylor, who founded an elite quarterback camp, became Eastern Washington’s offensive coordinator last season and more success followed. The Eagles set FCS records for passing yards (5,160) and total offense (5,766 yards).
Although Whittingham was aware of Taylor’s impact at the high school level, he was eager to see how it would translate to the college game.
“Didn’t miss a beat,” Whittingham said. “It was just as effective as it was at Folsom and it was very impressive to see what he did with that offense last year.”
Whittingham noted that in this day and age, football teams need to score more points.
“I don’t know if you put a number on it. You just need to score more points than the opposition,” he said. “I know that when we score 30 or more our record is very, very good.”
The Utes, as a matter of fact, are 25-2 when doing so since joining the Pac-12.
Things are a lot different, Whittingham added, from 20-25 years ago when 25 points would get it done. Offenses are more potent now.
Taylor won’t be the only new face taking on that challenge for Utah. The retirement of Dennis Erickson has the Utes looking for a running backs coach.
“There’s no timeline on the filling of that vacancy. It could happen in a week. It might be in a month,” Whittingham said. “We’re just looking for the best fit for our staff.”
The Utes have some flexibility there since tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham and wide receivers coach Guy Holliday have experience coaching running backs. Kyle Whittingham said, however, it will most likely be a running backs coach that is added to the staff.
“Coach Taylor will have a big say in that,” he said. “Absolutely.”