2008 Utah Utes Football Preview

By: Joel Welser

Utah 2007 Record: (9-4, 5-3 MWC)
2007 Bowl: Poinsettia Bowl vs. Navy (W 35-32)
Utah Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (24-14 at Utah, 24-14 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig
Defensive Coordinator: Gary Andersen

Returning Leaders for Utah:
" Rushing: Darrell Mack, RB, 1,204 yards
" Passing: Brian Johnson, QB, 1,847 yards
" Receiving: Bradon Godfrey, WR, 524 yards
" Tackles: Stevenson Sylvester, LB, 86
" Sacks: Paul Kruger, DE, 3; Stevenson Sylvester, LB, 3; Mike Wright, LB, 3
" Interceptions: Sean Smith, CB, 4

Other Key Returnees: OT Zane Beadles, WR Brent Casteel, G Robert Conley, OT Dustin Hensel, S Robert Johnson, CB Brice McCain, DE Koa Misi, G Caleb Schlauderaff, CB R.J. Stanford

Key Losses: DE Martail Burnett, C Kyle Gunther, WR Brian Hernandez, LB Joe Jiannoni, DT Gabe Long, LB Malakai Mokofisi, WR Derrek Richards, S Steve Tate

For the past three years, Utah has taken a backseat to BYU. This could be the year that the Utes find themselves back on top of the conference. Coach Kyle Whittingham, who played at BYU, has slowly built up the team over the last three years and now is the time for Utah to dethrone the Cougars.

Utah's Strengths:
Utah hopes to expand the playbook once again this year now that their personnel is more experienced. With Zane Beadles, Robert Conley and Caleb Schlauderaff returning, the offensive line should be the best in the conference and that will pave the way for running backs Darrell Mack, Matt Asiata and Ray Stowers. Mack rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and he was Asiata's back-up to start the year. Asiata broke his leg in the season opener, but now he is back to give the Utes a dynamic one-two punch at running back. Brian Johnson can do a little running too, but the quarterback will do a lot of damage with his arm. The playbook all but removed most running plays for Johnson to protect his injured shoulder, but for now Johnson is healthy and should put up big numbers through the air and on the ground as long as he stays that way.

Utah's Weaknesses:
But does he have the receiving options that he had last year? Derrek Richards and Brian Hernandez are gone, but Brandon Godfrey, who caught 50 passes last year, is back. More importantly, so is Brent Casteel. Casteel suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game last year and the former second-team all-conference player will make the passing attack even better than it was last year as long as he can put the knee injury behind him. On the defensive side of the ball is where the biggest questions arise, especially in the front seven. Koa Misi and Paul Kruger are young, but they slipped into the starting lineup last year and have a ton of potential. Misi even did well playing out of position at tackle. This year he will be moved to end and transfer Isley Filiaga and sophomore Lei Talamaivao will man the spots in the middle of the line. Stevenson Sylvester is a proven linebacker, but probable starters Mike Wright and Nai Fotu still have a lot to prove.

The Bottom Line for the Utes:

It was the secondary that had questions heading into last season and they only ranked 11 th in the nation in pass defense. With a year of experience under their belt, it should be even better. Corners Brice McCain and R.J. Stanford proved to be more than capable and nickel back Sean Smith led the team in interceptions. Robert Johnson, Joe Dale and RJ Rice are all experienced safeties and, as long as the front line can get a little pressure on the quarterback and the linebacker corps can find a couple decent contributors, the defense will be among the best in the conference.

2007 Utah Utes Team Stats:

" Rushing Offense: 167.46 (43rd in nation, 2nd in conference)
" Passing Offense: 202.15 (81, 7)
" Total Offense: 369.62 (79, 7)
" Scoring Offense: 26.23 (68, 3)
" Rushing Defense: 144.31 (52, 6)
" Pass Defense: 184.23 (11, 1)
" Total Defense: 328.54 (18, 4)
" Scoring Defense: 16.85 (5, 1)
" Turnover Margin: .85 (13, 1)
" Sacks: 2.85 (21, 2)
" Sacks Allowed: 2.15 (67, 5)

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Joel Welser is a senior staff writer for College Sports Fans, one of the leading College football & basketball fan sites online today. In addition to the 2008 Utah Utes football preview, Welser is a regular contributor providing college football & basketball previews, bowl game previews & NCAA Tournament coverage.

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