There’s a lot to expect from the Utah Utes this season, so to bring our dynasty owners the best of the best for this team, we interviewed Bill Riley from ESPN’s The Bill Riley Show and Josh Furlong, beat writer for UtahUtes.com and Assistant News Director at KSL.com. From Riley and Furlong, we found out everything we could about the offense, who could have an impact this season, and a little bit about Zach Moss. Check out more from Bill Riley and Josh Furlong on Twitter.
Overall, how do you believe the offense will compare to the 2018 version?
Riley: I think the offense will be more balanced than in 2018. Offensive Coordinator Andy Ludwig returns for his second stint at Utah and the impression I get is that they will play to their greatest strength and that’s a powerful running game, led by Zack Moss and a deep roster of running backs. I think this philosophy will open up things down field for Tyler Huntley and the passing game.
Furlong: The offense, as a whole, is in good shape. Bringing back Zack Moss and two proven quarterbacks gives Utah the best opportunity at consistency. The biggest hurdles for the offensive side of the ball is replacing its offensive line and then adapting to a new scheme by a new offensive coordinator. Fortunately for Utah, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig looks to get his playmakers the ball and will do whatever he needs to adapt to the offense. Utah has the depth at most of its positions to overcome the injury bug and can seemingly hit the ground running with the bulk of its offensive staff returning from last season.
What do you expect from the QB position in 2019?
Riley: I expect that Tyler Huntley, if he can remain healthy, will have a big year with this Andy Ludwig Offense. Huntley was just beginning to find his stride and form last October, when he led Utah to 4 straight wins and 4 straight 40+ scoring games. Huntley has all the tools to be a high level Pac 12 QB, he simply needs to be on the field. My guess is that Andy Ludwig puts him in the best possible situations to succeed and likely limits his exposure to hits in the open field. Jason Shelley will back Huntley up. Shelley started the last 5 games of the season in 2018 going 3-2.
Furlong: Tyler Huntley remains QB1 and there’s nothing that will change that. He’s got a good throwing motion and a good camaraderie with his receivers. He’s more patient in the pocket than he used to be and has the ability to stretch the field. He’s adding some muscle to his frame and continues to progress each season. Prior to his injury last season, Huntley was consistently beating Pac-12 defenses and putting up big numbers. I’d have to imagine he gets even better this year (as long as his offensive line can protect him). Barring injury, I’d expect big things from Huntley this season. Should Utah need to dip into its depth chart, Jason Shelley is a more than capable backup quarterback. Shelley, too, is progressing and has shown he can command a team through the Pac-12 gauntlet. Utah fans shouldn’t be too worried if Shelley becomes QB1 again.
How do you see the workload at RB being distributed?
Riley: Zack Moss, simply put, is the best all around back in the Pac 12 Conference and one of the best backs in all of College Football. He was on pace for a 1700+ yard and 18TD season a year ago, before missing the final 5 games due to injury. Moss opted to return to Utah to get his degree and help his NFL Stock. I expect Moss to see 80% to 85% of the workload at RB this season for Utah. Behind him Utah is 5 deep, with Devonte Henry-Cole, TJ Green, Devin Brumfield, who have all seen action. And a pair of talented freshman, Jordan Wilmore and Micah Bernard. After Defensive Line, Utah’s deepest and most talented position group is at running back.
Furlong: Zack Moss. Zack Moss. Zack Moss. It’s a simple strategy and one that Utah will rely on for much of the season. As long as Moss is healthy, he’s going to get as many touches as possible. He didn’t come back to split reps with the rest of the running backs, so expect him to demand the ball more this season. In Andy Ludwig’s last season at Wisconsin, he had Melvin Gordon as his leading running back. Gordon averaged about 25 touches per game. I’d imagine Moss is going to be around that number. Moss averaged 20 touches last season, but wasn’t always the featured option in the offense — he’ll get more this season. Behind Moss, Utah has Devin Brumfield and Devonta’e Henry-Cole that will likely get some reps to replace Moss in different situations. They’ve also go TJ Green and incoming freshman Jordan Wilmore who could be used in the mix. But there’s no question that Moss will get the bulk of the reps.
How does the offensive line compare to the 2018 group?
Riley: Utah’s Offensive Line Group for 2019 is still very much a work in progress heading into fall camp. 3 of the 5 starters are in place with Darrin Paulo at LT, Orlando Umana at C and Nick Ford still to be determined, he can play either guard or tackle. What Jim Harding, Utah’s O-Line Coach, has to figure out is who are the other 2 starters and how the pieces all fit together. Harding feels like he’s got the guys, he just needs to see how it all comes together this fall camp. Names to keep an eye on to fill those spots include JC Transfer/All American Bam Olaseni, Braeden Daniels, Paul Toala, Noah Myers and Alex Locklear.
Furlong: Utah has a good group of receivers returning that will demand the ball, and that list will start with slot receiver Britain Covey, who is the shifty playmaker that makes him the easy target — he was also Huntley’s favorite target last season. Beyond Covey, Utah has a multitude of options in the wide receiver corps that will get targets before tight ends. That’s not to say tight ends won’t be an option this season. Brant Kuithe and Cole Fotheringham have been fantastic options at the position and will be great targets in the offense. But their targets will largely depend on if Utah needs them more in a blocking technique to solidify the line. Still, I’d imagine a 75-25 split in favor of the wide receivers.
What do you think the distribution will be to the WR/TE's?
Riley: Utah has a ton of depth at the WR Spot and are 2-Deep at the Tight End spot. I would expect Andy Ludwig to feature the tight ends more than Utah has in recent years, because both Cole Fotheringham and Brant Kuithe are major young talents. The WR Corps is deep, led by Britain Covey who will return from a late season knee injury. Bryan Thompson is poised for a breakout season, if he can stay healthy. Solomon Enis, Jaylen Dixon, Samson Nucua and Demari Simpkins will all factor in too.
Furlong: There’s a handful of guys that could have a nice impact this season. Many are backups on the depth chart now, but could get some significant minutes this fall. Most have the potential to lead their position group eventually. Solomon Enis is a sophomore receivers and has been a part of the starting rotation. Now that Enis has adjusted to the speed of D-I ball, he’ll be a viable threat. Sophomore receiver Jaylen Dixon got some minutes at the end of the season last year, but will only increase his visibility this year. He’s a proven speedster that can go get the long ball to make impact plays for the team. Running back Devin Brumfield is still young, but he’s shown good amounts of power in his position. He’ll be fighting a loaded depth chart, but he’s a talent up-and-coming back. Some other receivers to watch: Terrell Perriman and Bryan Thompson. Perriman is a redshirt freshman, so he still has some things to learn in the position, but he’s a natural and could pick it up fast. Thompson was hampered by injury last season but should have a breakout season this year.
For our dynasty owners, who are some young players that stand out as future breakout performers?
Riley: Breakout Players-WR Bryan Thompson, Solomon Enis and Jaylen Dixon. RB-Devonte Henry Cole and Jordan Wilmore behind Moss.