Before this weekend’s big showdown against Utah, our friends over at Block U were kind enough to exchange some questions and answers about Oregon State’s upcoming opponent. You can now learn about Utah from the guys that know them best as we continue to preview Oregon State’s meeting on Saturday with the Utes.
1. In the fourth quarter of Utah’s most recent game against Arizona, leading rusher Armand Shyne sustained a season-ending injury, adding to the Utes’ widespread injury problems at running back. Then, Joe Williams, the team’s featured back who “retired” after the BYU game earlier this season, suddenly returned to the team. Simply put, what’s the situation with the ground attack for this week?
BU: It's a question mark, no doubt about it. The loss of Shyne hurts, but Zack Moss (basically the Utes co-starter) is a game time decision after missing the Arizona game. Also, the return of Joe Williams is a big deal, because of the lack of depth. Williams was a reliable back last year when Devontae Booker went down, so he's a PAC-12 quality starting running back. Also look for Troy Williams to run more in the game.
2. Utah is currently 2-1 in the Pac-12 and tied with Arizona State and Colorado atop the South Division. It’s safe to say that a conference title is definitely in the potential cards for the Utes. That being said, what is the biggest strength of this team that could help them secure that birth into the Pac-12 title game and what’s their biggest weakness that could deter them from that goal?
BU: The strength? The lines, without a doubt. Utah can control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and I'm not sure a lot of teams in the conference can claim that.
The weakness? Utah has had a hard time punching in touchdowns in the red zone this season. If they can convert, they'll be in really good shape.
3. Quarterback Troy Williams seems to be an enigmatic piece for Utah’s offense, as the quality of his play seems to directly correlate to the team’s level of success all season long. Besides Williams, who are some other key offensive players keep an eye on in this one?
BU: Tim Patrick is Troy's #1 option on the outside, and Utah's leading receiver and has three 100 yard receiving games thus far, but missed the Arizona game with injury. Cory Butler-Byrd is another wide out, but is more of a slot receiver. He's an absolute burner and is dangerous in the open field. Utah's wide receivers have turned into a nice group this season, largely because of Troy Williams accuracy and aggression.
4. The Utes are currently allowing 19 points per game to opponents, a daunting mark that ranks Utah as the 20th best scoring defense in the country. One of their fearless leaders is safety Marcus Williams, a Pac-12 All-Conference selection a season ago. Besides Williams, who are some other key defensive players keep an eye on in this one?
BU: Pick a name on the defensive line. Lowell Lotulelei is the star of the group, and is arguably the best d-lineman in the conference (and a likely first round pick). I'm serious about the d-line group, though, they are all major players.
Another name to look for is strong safety Chase Hansen. He's kind of a hybrid linebacker/safety combo that will come into the box to help stop the run. While Williams is the ball hawk, Chase is the guy that will lay the wood.
5. Earlier this season, in one of his infamous rants, Washington State head coach Mike Leach referred to his team as “the easiest team in the country to tackle”. If you were to describe this Utah team in a single sentence, what would you refer to them as?
BU: A bunch of tough S.O.Bs. When Kyle Whittingham is your coach, you have to be tough, and that's shown with Utah's line play. The style may not always be pretty, but it's usually effective. Beaver fans have a taste of that with Gary Andersen, who is basically a clone of Coach Whitt in so many ways.