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Q&A With Block U

Utah did a good job of shutting down Oregon St.'s Brandin Cooks last year; how will the Ute defense do this time?
Utah did a good job of shutting down Oregon St.'s Brandin Cooks last year; how will the Ute defense do this time?
Photo by Andy Wooldridge

Oregon St. opens their Pac-12 Campaign Saturday night against Utah. It's a crucial game for both teams, even this early in the season. It's not a season make or break deal for either one, but it will probably have a sizable impact on where each team finds itself come the end of the year, as has been the case the last several meeting.

Utah was a team in transition at quarterback the last time Beaver Nation saw them, a 21-7 win in Corvallis last October, with then freshman Travis Wilson still getting his feet on the ground. Something he's done pretty well in getting his team off to a 2-0 start this season.

The Utes were a solid defensive squad then though, with a number of players who are now pros playing, and therefore a lot of new faces and questions to be answered.

We got with Sean "JazzyUte" Reynolds at BlockU, the SBN site that has the most comprehensive Utah coverage around, to get his assessment on a number of questions that occurred to us about the Utes before we get to Salt Lake City.

And on the flip side you can read the Q&A with Building the Dam here on BlockU.

It was a spectacular win over Weber St., but it was Weber St. (At the same time, the win over Utah St. looks even better after Chuckie Keeton and co. rolled past Air Force.) What percent of the impressive win over the Wildcats was due to what the Utes did well, and what percent was the Wildcats being over-matched?

It's hard to put a percentage on it when dealing with FCS teams. Weber is no Eastern Washington, but I think they do have a pretty decent offense (as was on display in their opening-season win over Stephen F. Austin - a game they won 50-40). But yeah, I don't want to read too much into the victory except last year, against an equally bad FCS team (Northern Colorado), the Utes struggled for a good portion of the game (though they won it rather handily).

Travis Wilson continues to look good, both in what he's doing, and also his decision making, and seems to have taken a step up in both areas, predictably, coming into his second season. How confident are you that the Utes "have their guy"? On a 1-10 scale, where is he in his progression?

On a scale of 1-10, I'm thinking he's at a 8. The progress he's made these first two games, compared to last year, is evident, and I'm excited to see him continue that progression the remainder of the season. I also believe, and have believed since last year, that he's the guy to lead this offense. Right now, he's proving that claim right.

Utah took a while to establish a rushing game to their satisfaction against Utah St., but it looked like OC Dennis Erickson was committed to the run, and eventually, it made a big difference in the outcome. Even against an Weber St., if you subtract Wilson's runs, and what happened in the second half, it looks like its still a work in process. Do you believe the Utes will continue to stay with the run to a large degree? Will it ultimately come around? If they have difficulty against Oregon St., will they shift to a higher percentage of passes?

It's hard to say. I think Utah wants to get the run game going because it does give the offense another weapon, but obviously you can't just keep doing it over and over again if it's not working. I feel there is definitely talent at that spot, and the offensive line does appear to be better this year (though, after how abysmal they were last season, they should be) - but yes, the run game hasn't been nearly as dominant as what we're used to here in Salt Lake City.

Still, I do anticipate more passing from Erickson, and don't be surprised if he utilizes the tight ends more. Whittingham commented that he'd like to see them more involved in the offense and one of Utah's best offensive weapons happens to be Jake Murphy, so...

Along those lines, Wilson took off against Weber St. for long runs several times. He's mobile, but he hasn't done that a lot that I recall. How much of that was a result of opportunity against Weber St., vs. something Oregon St. (and subsequent Utah opponents) will see more of?

I think opposing teams will come to see Wilson as a fairly mobile quarterback. Obviously he's not lightning quick and he certainly has his limitations in that regard, but don't let his height fool you - he can escape and do some damage. Even so, I don't anticipate the Utes will use him in that regard much this season. It's just nice knowing he has that ability. Oh, and he's also a world class hurdler.

The loss of Kenneth Scott shouldn't be minimized, but it looks like Utah has the depth to withstand his loss relatively well, given the results in the first 2 games. So while there is some concern about his absence, just how much concern do you have in this area? Who will be the biggest threat to the Oregon St. secondary?

There is concern because much of the depth is still untested and inexperience. With that said, Sean Fitzgerald has stepped into the role nicely, and I feel comfortable the wide receivers can step it up in his absence. It doesn't hurt that they have a quarterback who knows how to throw.

So, while you're right and the Scott injury does hurt, I don't think it's crushing because, as you already pointed out, there's enough depth there to pad that loss. It's still a shame, though, and I think most Utah fans would rather have him out there than not because he truly is a great player. So, hopefully he can make it back next year.

The Utah crowd looked large and engaged for the first 2 games (at least until Weber St. was dispatched), and the red-white striping by the crowd looked good, by the way, but those were local teams that should have helped the turnout. And Oregon St. has found the going tough down in Salt Lake City, having lost their last 3 times there. Will Rice-Eccles and the MUSS be a factor Saturday night? And is Oregon St. in for a black-out?

I think so. Utah fans are energized and optimistic about this year's team. With kickoff set for 8:00 Salt Lake time, I anticipate a very active atmosphere (night games seem to always have a tinge more excitement to ‘em than day games). The fact Oregon State is still perceived as a decent team, even though they're not in the top-25 anymore, should only add to that atmosphere.

I anticipate another sellout (I can't recall the last time the Utes didn't sellout, though maybe there was a game or two toward the end of last season that came short of a sellout). As for the blackout, unlike in 2011 (and I guess last year when we met up in Corvallis, right?), it won't be - the blackout this year is set for a Thursday-night showdown with UCLA a couple weeks from now. It is Homecoming, though.

Despite some concerns, reasonable given the personnel losses the Utes had up front, it looks like the Utah defense will actually be pretty serviceable. Where does each group, the d-line, the linebackers, and the secondary, stand after 2 weeks?

The defense is a big question mark right now. I think they played poorly in the first half against Utah State, which forced Kyle Whittingham to throw out his entire gameplan at the half. But those adjustments really helped stifle Chuckie Keeton, who, mind you, is a fantastic quarterback. He really had his way with the defense for pretty much two quarters, and though he managed a touchdown early in the third, the Aggies struggled the remainder of the game doing much of anything.

Against Weber, I think they defended well enough, all things considered, but because it's a FCS team, it's hard to get a full read. Because of that, I think Utah fans are a bit nervous about the secondary and what Sean Mannion might be able to do it. It's definitely going to be tested.

The run defense, I think, will be okay ... but yeah, I think we're all still trying to figure out whether the secondary is improving fast enough to keep an offense like the Beavers' in check. We'll see.

Yeah, I think this is a "We'll see" kind of game about a lot of things for both squads - a great measuring stick game.

Assess the Utah special teams for Oregon St. fans. We saw that great on-side kick against the Aggies, but overall, will this be an area that the Utes take some advantage in?

Utah has a new kicker this year and, in two games, he's been sensational. He's 3 of 3 on field goals and 13 of 13 on extra points. He also, as you pointed out, successfully converted an onside kick. Special teams for the Utes has been a very strong point this year and I think it could definitely play a role in a close contest Saturday. But I'm not expecting an onside kick ... at least, I hope not!

Thanks, Sean! Looking forward to the game.