We hope to be much different offensively, much more productive, much more explosive than we were last year. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — As the season opener against Utah State approaches, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that one aspect of the game is especially fueling his excitement.
“I’m excited to see what the offense does on Thursday night,” Whittingham said. “So that’s really the biggest thing that I’m anticipating.”
The offseason addition of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson; the development of sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson; and a much-improved offensive line are among the things making Whittingham optimistic. A faster-paced scheme also has him hopeful that the Utes will be more productive on offense. In last year’s 27-20 overtime loss at Utah State, the Utes converted on just 2-of-17 third-down situations.
“That’s atrocious,” Whittingham said. “We hope to be much different offensively, much more productive, much more explosive than we were last year.”
Whittingham noted that Utah’s quarterback play over the past four years hasn’t been anywhere near where it needs to be in terms of consistency, continuity and production.
Such things need to be remedied, he said, in order for the Utes to compete in the Pac-12. With Wilson (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) being bigger and stronger than quarterbacks in recent years, Whittingham is hopeful that he’ll be the first Utah starter to begin and end a season since Brian Johnson in 2008.
Wilson is determined to do so.
“I definitely accept that challenge,” he said, adding that consistency is his goal — being the same player every game.
IN MEMORY: Utah recruit Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku, who was killed in a car accident on July 30, will be honored in a pregame ceremony Thursday. A moment of silence will follow. Commemorative stickers, resembling the helmet decals being worn by the Utes this season, will be given to fans entering the stadium.
DEPTH CHARTING: There's not a lot of changes on this week’s depth chart. Running back Bubba Poole is now listed as top kickoff and punt returner. In other moves, wide receiver Geoffrey Norwood has moved into a backup spot behind Anthony Denham, and there was some shuffling with No. 2 spots on the offensive line — Andrew Albers at left tackle, Percy Taumoelau at left guard, as well as Marc Pouvave and Derek Tuimauga as co-backups at right guard.
FIRST TIME: Game week opened with the first press conference in Utah’s new $32 million Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center. Whittingham, Wilson, defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi and defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly represented the Utes at the initial gathering.
EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham’s radio show with Bill Riley on ESPN 700 makes its season debut Tuesday at 6 p.m. Fans can attend the broadcast live at the Harmon’s City Creek Center store. The Utah-USU game will be the first football contest on the new FOX Sports 1 network. Last year, the Utes kicked off the Pac-12 Networks with a season-opening win over Northern Colorado. As of Monday, Utah has 25 players on NFL rosters.