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Unrivaled: Will Utah Football Become A Pass-Heavy Offense?

Photo Courtesy of Utah Athletics

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah’s 2020 team is going to look drastically different when they kick off on Nov. 7 against Arizona … especially on offense.

There is officially a three-man race at quarterback to replace Tyler Huntley between Drew Lisk, James Bentley, and Cam Rising; however, odds are that one of the latter two will be the starter.

The Utes are also replacing running back Zack Moss who was a third-round draft pick with the Buffalo Bills. Does the loss of Moss mean that Utah will ultimately become a pass-first team?

The answer is not clear since the Utes have had some really good running backs prior to Moss in Devonte Booker who is currently with the Las Vegas Raiders and Joe Williams who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.

Historically, the Utes are a defensive priority team with a run-first offense with the exception of a few years like when Alex Smith was under center. Looking more recently in the Pac-12 era, the Utes passing offense has not been the priority or all that electric, and some of that had to do with subpar quarterback play and a rotating cast of offensive coordinators.

From 2011 through 2019 passing yards per game for Utah never finished in the top half of FBS schools, and that even includes last year’s team that featured a stellar season from Tyler Huntley.

Passing yards per game is not the best stat to know how good, or efficient, a passing game can be. When looking at yards per attempt and quarterback rating the Utes offense looked above average last year. Huntley had the highest quarterback rating and yards per attempt in the Pac-12 which is an outlier rather than the norm over the past decade of Utah quarterbacks.

Over the past few years, the Utes have built up its recruiting to have some high-caliber options so perhaps the passing game is back and it might not be out of necessity but rather than pure talent compared to who the team has to run the ball.

Andy Ludwig Gets A Lot Out Of His Players

The Utah Football staff needs to name a starter sooner than later. With so many new faces on offense, the quarterback needs to be able to gain a rapport with his receivers, offensive line, and running backs. The sooner they can work with the first-team the better and right now the Utes are three weeks away from its season opener.

Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig spoke to the media and said that he will have the offense adapt and adjust to its strength. That could be throwing the ball a lot more with the potential at quarterback or using a variety of running backs to replace Moss.

“We’re committed to doing whatever it takes to win. So we go if this is like the operatives on the perimeter and the quarterback’s up to the task, then things will open up,” Ludwig said during his media availability. “I really feel like last year we played to the strengths of who we were and stay true to who we were through the course of the season. Every year is different. We take a lot of pride in our ability to adapt and adjust to the personnel within the scheme.”

That is what an offensive coordinator should say and the strength of this Ute offense seems to be the returning wide receivers and tight ends and even though there is a bit of an unknown at quarterback, there is a lot of potential.

KSL Sports’ Scott Mitchell feels Ludwig is being very truthful in that statement because he was able to turn Huntley from a quarterback who made mistakes to one of the most efficient passers in all of college football in 2019.

“He really got the most out of Tyler Huntley and his abilities, he saw great talent in Zach Moss,” Mitchell said. “Then you have really the guy who I think emerged as a legitimate playmaker last year for Utah was Brant Kuithe at tight end and he’s got some special skill sets. It’ll be interesting to see. It was very clear a year ago Britain Covey was not healthy and it will be interesting if he is healthy and how he will be put into the system.”

Finding The Right QB Is Key

The quarterback position is an unknown for talent but having Rising with the team during a redshirt year since he transferred in from Texas, and extra time with Bentley who is a graduate transfer from South Carolina allowss them to be around the team and learn the system even more.

Mitchell feels that with how Ludwig elevated Huntley’s game that there is no real wrong answer when picking between Rising or Bentley to be the starting quarterback. Regardless, Ludwig will have the right plays to fit whoever is under center despite their difference.

“These quarterbacks are different… and it’s all going to depend on who the quarterback is. Jake Bentley is more of a traditional dropback style of quarterback and that’s something I don’t know that Utah has seen in a long, long time,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s more of what Ludwig’s style is. It is more of a guy dropping back in the pocket, you know, having multiple reads and options on a certain play.

“I think Jake Bentley fits that best. If that’s the case, you’re going to see a lot of these wide receivers more involved in plays and in, you know, in the game plan. If if it’s Cam Rising, he’s more he’s a dual-threat quarterback and it will be more similar to what Utah had with Tyler Huntley.”

The difference in who starts and how pass-heavy this offense will be could come down to experience. Bentley has started many games in the SEC while at South Carolina and Rising has yet to play at the FBS level.

If the Utes go with Bentley as the starting quarterback – look for the offense to be more of a traditional passing offense with throws going to the wide receiver.

If it is Rising, then Utah will look a lot more like it did last year when Huntley was very efficient but the ball was going to tight ends and running backs while mixing in play-action.

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