Utah Fans Should Be Thankful For Past, Current Coaches & Themselves For Magical Season
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah fans has so many things to be thankful for when they think about their beloved Utes.
The football program is in as good of a place as it has ever been and things are looking better every week and has the makings of a special season.
Here are some things that Utah fans should be thankful for during the holiday season.
Kyle Whittingham, Andy Ludwig & Morgan Scalley
Obviously, the first person that fans should be thankful for is the leader of the program for the last 15 years, Kyle Whittingham. He has been consistent throughout his career at the helm. When the times were tough in the early years of the Pac-12 era, winning 5 games and missing out on two bowl games during that stretch, Whittingham has always kept his eye on the prize and trusted the process. Now that the Utes are in the College Football Playoff and Rose Bowl conversations, the hard work and dedication of Coach Whittingham is paying off.
Even with all of the successful seasons and even the down years, Whittingham’s name has been mentioned for other head coaching jobs, but he remains firm that he will end his career as the head coach of the Utes. Even when rumors surfaced of disagreements with former Athletic Director Chris Hill, he stuck with the program. When gathering around the table with family and friends for their Thanksgiving feast, when mentioning what they are thankful for and if anything Utah football related comes up, Kyle Whittingham needs to be mentioned first.
Whittingham is also the reason why the other two names are mentioned above. He brought back Andy Ludwig for his second stint as offensive coordinator, bringing him from Vanderbilt. It was the perfect time for the move to fall into place. Troy Taylor left the program to be the head coach at Sacramento State after two seasons as the OC. Tyler Huntley was going into his senior season and was looking to make a huge improvement in his game. Ludwig did just that. Utah’s offense has never been more efficient since joining the Pac-12. Most of the credit goes to Ludwig and his ability to get the most out of all of his offensive players.
Whittingham also hired Morgan Scalley to run his defense in 2016. Not before putting him in other positions on his staff beginning with being the safeties coach in 2008 and adding the recruiting coordinator title from 2009-14. Then adding special teams coordinator to those other two jobs for the 2015 season. Whittingham handed the reigns to his historic defense to Scalley in 2016 and the unit has been nothing but elite in those four seasons. The 2019 edition of Utah’s defense is among the best in the country.
Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu, Julian Blackmon, Zack Moss
After the 2018 season, many thought that one or two players from the group of Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu, Julian Blackmon and Zack Moss would skip their senior season and enter the NFL Draft. To many, it was surprising to see all four return for their final year of eligibility for one common reason, “finish what we started.” That includes a Pac-12 Championship and that is exactly what Utah is in contention for and a favorite to win.
Anae, Fotu and Blackmon are three big reasons why the Utes have been so dominant on the defensive side of the football. Blackmon made the move from cornerback to safety and has thrived in the position. Fotu is a guy that not many want to block because he is so physical and disruptive at defensive tackle. Anae is knocking on the door of Hunter Dimick’s school record for the most career sacks and is a candidate for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Utah’s defensive line would have still been one of the best in the conference if Fotu and Anae went to the NFL because the Utes are very good at recruiting defensive lineman. But, their presence has taken them to another level.
Zack Moss had another goal on top of finishing what they started. He wanted to cement his legacy as the best running back in Utah football history. Safe to say that Moss has accomplished that goal. He owns all of the rushing records for a career and is near single season records. Returning for his senior season has only improved the draft stock
You can’t mention the success of a program and not bring up the fanbase. Utah fans knew of the hype that surrounded the Utes heading into the 2019 season, but they managed expectations and was even-keeled through the season and not overreacting when during the tough times (USC loss) or in the positive moments. Other fanbases are prone to reach for the stars, even when it was nearly impossible to reach. For the Utah faithful, they know that the stars are within reach but are willing to wait until the goals are closer to being achieved, while still showing up and cheering their hearts out on every Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
If Spence Eccles didn’t donate the funds needed for the world class facilities for the Utah football program, the Utes wouldn’t be as competitive in the Pac-12 as they are. It not only has some of the best state-of-the-art amenities and is vital to the health, nutrition and development for the players, it also attracts recruits because they want to be a part of that and use the facilities every day to help their game grow, which is something that Kyle Whittingham and his staff prides themselves on, player development.
Ron McBride & Urban Meyer
When coach Ron McBride took over the Utah football program in 1990, that was the beginning of the emergence of the Utes on the college football landscape. From 1990-2002, McBride posted an 88-63 record as the head coach of the Utes. He led the program to a WAC and Mountain West Conference championship.
McBride handed the reigns to Urban Meyer for two seasons, who took the Utes to the next level. In two seasons with Utah, he lost just two games and won 22. He led the Utes to an undefeated season in 2004 and became the first school from a non-BCS conference to win a BCS bowl game. The success from McBride and Meyer led to a smooth transition into the Whittingham era.
Before the 2019 season, it was unknown how high of a ceiling that Tyler Huntley would have reached. Simply due to his health, missing 3 games in 2017 and 5 games last season due to injury. This season, Huntley has been sensational. He has played in all 11 games to his point in the season, healthy or not and has completed 174 of his 232 pass attempts for a 75 percent completion percentage for 2,608 yards, 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a 187.5 quarterback rating.
Other than the play of Zack Moss, Huntley has been the most important piece to Utah’s success on the offensive side of the football. With the numbers he is posting this season, Huntley could end his career with the Utes putting his name in the conversation among Scott Mitchell, Alex Smith, Brian Johnson and Mike McCoy as the best quarterbacks to ever play for Utah.
Chris Hill & Mark Harlan
For all of the years that Chris Hill was the Athletic Director, he transformed the university when he put them into the Pac-12. That isn’t an easy thing to do and took several years to get accomplished but Utah wouldn’t be where they are today without the guidance of Dr. Chris Hill and his hard work through his long tenure as the AD for Utah.
Mark Harlan has taken the torch from Hill and has ran with it. In his short time as the Utes’ AD, Harlan has already strengthened their non-conference schedule for football for years to come. Harlan has already scheduled home-and-home series with SEC schools Arkansas and Florida. He is committed to having every athletic program at Utah be a successful and competitive team.
Utah will clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game with a win at home over Colorado on Saturday in their regular season finale. The game will kickoff at 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC.
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