Utah senior quarterback Travis Wilson is a force as he can get it done with both his arm and legs. (Kiffer Creveling/Daily Utah Chronicle)
The Collegian teams up with The Daily Utah Chronicle’s Kim Brenneisen to take an inside look at the Bulldogs’ opponent this weekend – the 21st-ranked Utes.
The Collegian: What is the Utes’ identity?
Brenneisen: Utah’s defense has been a staple of this team for a few years. Sometimes the Utes are referred to as “Sack Lake City” because of their strong defensive efforts. While, of course, offense is where the majority of the points comes from, the defense does a good job of not allowing points on its end. The Utes only have one sack this season but have more than made up for it by registering five interceptions. When one part of their defense is lacking, they make up for it elsewhere on the field.
Last season, the Utes won nine games and upset teams like Michigan, UCLA, USC and Stanford. What makes Utah such a dangerous team?
The team feels like it is always underestimated. A lot of people overlook Utah only because it had a rough start in Pac-12 play. The team is eager to prove the doubters wrong, and in doing so, pull out big wins. But this is not the only thing that makes them dangerous. Aside from Utah’s defense, when the offense gets rolling, it is hard to stop. Utah can be just as effective from inside the pocket to its run game.
Utah is a very well-rounded team. What is the team’s strength?
It goes back to the defense. Not only can the defense put pressure on the quarterback, guys on the sideline are more than ready to come into the game when their number is called. Linebacker Hunter Dimick went down last game, and Kylie Fitts stepped right up and did not miss a beat. Not only on the defense are there backups who can play at any given moment, there are multiple options for the offense. Several wide receivers on this team can relieve some pressure off of Devontae Booker so defenses will have a hard time figuring out who to focus on.
Who are the leaders on the team, and what makes them stand out?
Kenneth Scott. Although he only has four catches on the year, defenses should be on alert because he is poised for a big game. Even then, he does not care if he has a big game because he is a team guy. He wants to see the team do well above all, and his sacrifices separate this captain from the rest. Another leader is Gionni Paul. The fifth-year senior has plenty of experience and just received the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. He had a couple of penalties in the first game, was really harsh on himself about it and completely turned it around in Game Two. This is something other players take note of, and the younger players look up to him.
Utah’s quarterbacks (Travis Wilson, Kendal Thompson) are very athletic and have proved that they could get it done with both their arms and legs. How will their versatility impact this game?
We won’t know who will be starting until Saturday, but either can take control of the offense because of that versatility. Either quarterback can make a big impact because if they see something they do not like, they can easily run and avoid the sack. Last week, Wilson ran for a big gain so just the dual threat will make defenses think twice about what to do when going up against either of them.
Running back Devontae Booker is All-Pac-12 first teamer. What does he bring to the table and in what ways is he able to impact the game?
Booker has not had the impact he’s necessarily wanted the first two games. Sure, he has a couple touchdowns, but there have not been any plays where he really made a big gain. Players and coaches know he’ll make the expected impact soon. If for some reason Wilson or Thompson cannot get the job done behind center, Booker can easily take over the game. He is not afraid to get hit and, if anything, this only motivates him to keep going.
The Utes exposed Fresno State’s secondary for six scores in 2014. How will Utah’s vertical passing game fare this time around?
If Thompson is starting, he won’t be able to throw the ball as effectively as Utah could with Wilson. Wilson has been on target this season, whereas Thompson made a few questionable throws, but then again it was his first game back from injury. Utah’s passing game will most likely look similar and, if not because of the quarterback, it will be strong because of its talented receiving corps.
The defense is known to be very physical. What type of message/philosophy does defensive coordinator John Pease preach to his unit?
Pease knows how to get his entire team fired up, and rarely does the defense come out of a game 100 percent satisfied with its performance. They aim for perfection, and this makes every player leave it all out on the field.
After struggling in their first three seasons in the Pac-12, the Utes are now making some noise. What does this say about the job head coach Kyle Whittingham has done?
It’s been a learning process for all the coaches and players, and it seems like they have finally made all the adjustments needed to compete in the Pac-12. Whittingham has really done a great job of instilling confidence in his team when it needed it most and it is finally showing it is a force to be reckoned with.
What is the talk like on campus surrounding this team and how far do fans think it can go this year?
Fans are excited for this year. They think the Utes are on track to maybe their greatest year yet in the Pac-12. With some of the other Pac-12 schools not performing too well in nonconference games, this could favor the Utes. Fans expect another bowl game appearance and a win for that matter, but this time in a more prominent bowl.