We wanted to try something a little different as this off-season is getting underway. We asked ten questions of some of our most loyal Ute fans about the state of the Utah football program as well as what they say in 2012 and hope to see in 2013.
Many of you who follow this blog will know our good friends of the blog Dog and Deuce already. But there are a few new faces. Kyle Ariotti and Matt Coleman are co-workers of mine. Dave Richards is a long time friend and his brother Rob and I have had many spirited debates about BYU and Utah sports. But most importantly, each is a dedicated and passionate Utah football fan.
We will post one question with each response every day for the next ten weekdays. Make sure to check in every day to get your University of Utah Utes update from our roundtable of Utah loyalists.
Matt Coleman – I knew it would be a little bit of a struggle the first little while of the season but I didn’t expect the offense to be so inconsistent. To improve, Brian Johnson really needs to establish an identity within the offense. I hate how whenever he is asked about the offense all he says is, “I just want to make the offense utilize the strength of our players”. The offense needs an identity and consistent play calling, which didn’t exist this year. I believe there will be an improvement next year by having stability in the quarterback position because Johnson did have to face the challenge of ‘dumbing’ down the offense for Jon Hays when Jordan Wynn went down and then had to do it again for when they went with Travis Wilson.
Allen “Dog” Martindale – This may sound crazy but Brian Johnson performed about how I expected. Lets face it, he was not a typical first year coordinator. He was a kid whose experience consisted of two very unsuccessful years as a quarterbacks coach. That’s it! I don’t care how much potential Kyle Whittingham saw in him, that resume couldn’t get him hired as a high school coordinator. Johnson wasn’t prepared, plain and simple. That’s why I didn’t expect much from him from the start. If he wants to improve he needs to spend each and every day watching tape, studying play calling and, if possible, talking to successful coordinators. The bright side is that he can’t get much worse, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has a very long way to go to even be effective.
Dave Richards – Johnson met my expectations, with a slight advantage to the positive. He was more imaginative than Chow and really didn’t have a senior or seasoned quarterback to run his offense. Overall, he did well at adjustments in half times with a good balance of pass and run plays. He improves as he receives more experience reading the speed of the defenses and expanding the abilities of Travis Wilson to run different plays. I think it will just take time; Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Kyle Ariotti – My expectations for Johnson were really high. Probably a little higher than what I should’ve thought. His first year calling plays and a total different position for him as a coordinator and not the actual quarterback. The biggest thing is for him to find the plays/groove that will work for Wilson at QB. He is the future and Johnson needs to determine how to best utilize Wilson’s talents with our talented receivers.
Rob Richards – Loaded question. Many fans tie expectations and accountability of the offensive coordinator simply to play calling. I’d rank that #4 in OC priorities.
OC priority #1 – Know your own personnel. Strengths/weaknesses. Are the best players on the team playing? And are they in the right positions? I’d say Brian Johnson did OK here. His biggest decision really was going to Travis Wilson over Jon Hays at quarterback. I don’t think that cost us any games we would have won with Hays @ QB, so that’s OK. John White IV was our best player and BJ fed him a ton of carries from different formations all year (except for games he missed due to injury). I think he was right in benching/reducing role of DeVonte Christopher based simply on the fact that he can’t catch. Glad we didn’t just keep pumping him the ball cuz he’s a senior and was our leading receiver the year before. Good move by BJ. Now the bad. Reggie Dunn returns 4 kickoffs back for 100+ yd TD’s. It’s BJ’s job to find a way to get this guy the ball (besides a reverse that starts him 8 yds behind the line of scrimmage).
OC priority #2 – Know your opponent. Unfortunately, this comes with experience and BJ will get better at this. I think BJ does OK calling a game during the game, but I can think of at least a few Utah games this year that our offensive game plan out of the gate didn’t seem like a customized strategy against the other team’s defense. But rather the same old plays called based on down & distance vs. opponent scheme. You’ve got to know the other team’s weaknesses and exploit them. I know you don’t want any BYU feedback in my opinions, but this is an area where Brandon Doman absolutely sucks! He seems confident that his plays WILL work if simply EXECUTED properly, regardless of the talent or scheme on the other side. That is not true and when playing teams where the Def Coordinator is smarter than him (likely often in future schedules), it will be a problem.
OC priority #3 – Preparation. Kids have got to be prepared for the situation before it happens in order to be successful. Responsibility for practice, preparation, and discipline is squarely on the coaches. Utah wide receivers are great run blockers and it’s evident that is stressed in practice. I think the Ute offense has a lot of formations, etc without a lot of stupid penalties that some teams have. I think weakness in the offense is more on the limits of the personnel than effort or discipline. I think Whitt’s teams do well here & BJ seems to toe that line with the offense.
OC priority #4 – Play calling. If the OC is taking care of jobs 1-3, then this becomes much easier. Remember, he is the ‘coordinator’. He’s not the QB making the throws, WR catching the balls, or OL blocking up front. It’s tough to grade BJ based on ‘expectations of his first year’ because I really had none. I think the real question will be next year as we are able to compare year over year. As I mentioned in a previous question, I believe the play calling needs to improve on third down. Let’s not assume the WR can break 3 tackles on 3rd & 9. There needs to be options down field to get the first down outright. Again, it’s not on the OC if the QB is the one always checking down to that option, but I’m not sure who was to blame this year as both QB & OC were in a sense ‘freshmen’. Overall, I think Brian Johnson did fine in his first year. I just hope the learning curve for priority #2 above is not longer than his leash. With three stud new head coaches in the PAC12 south (UofA, ASU & UCLA) and Stanford & Oregon returning to the schedule, we will soon find out.
James “Deuce” Dyer – I didn’t really know what to expect out of Brian Johnson. He has a limited coaching resume to look at and try to understand what you are going to get form him. One thing I know for sure is that if he continues to struggle like he did in his first year it won’t be long before people are calling for his job. The main problem I had with Brian Johnson’s play calling was his lack of running attack and when he did run I think he used Travis Wilson too much. I’ve said this before and will probably say this again but when your OL are struggling to pass protect it is incumbent upon the coaches to figure out a way to get the guys up front some confidence, they only way I know to do that is to RUN THE BALL. I mean three yards and a cloud of dust worked for many of the greatest coaches and when you can pass protect it should be your first option and NOT with your QB. Next year is a new year and perhaps the OL issues will be a thing of the past. I would like to see more innovation. Brian hasn’t really added anything new to the playbook and in all honest, the playbook has shrunk. Now some of that could be a true freshman QB but even before that it seemed like the Utes were set in a 15 play cycle and the only variation of that cycle would be the occasional trick play. Brian Johnson needs to decide that the run is important as the pass and move the pocket more. Brian obviously believes Wilson can move better than Wynn and Hays but he only used that perceived ability in the option play, he should’ve and should next year move the pocket and make the field easier for Travis Wilson to see.