Utes Season Outlook 2018

Since we, here at SportMuse, can’t wait for the Football season to start, I’m going to begin a series on some teams that are potentially poised to make a statement in their respective conference.
Before I get too deep in the weeds, I want to touch on where this team is “supposed” to be. ESPN’s analysts pick them to finish in 6th place in the PAC-12 and second in the PAC-12 South Division. The ESPN FPI expects the Utes to go 7-5, with a 2.9% of winning the conference and a 0% chance of winning out.
Utah finished 7-6 last year but only 3-6 in conference play, however 4 of those 6 losses were by a combined total of 16 points. The largest loss was to Oregon, which was a terrible game for Utah all around, having yielded 350+ rushing yards (2 TDs) and 69 passing yards with 2 TDs. The second largest loss came to Arizona State and coincided with the return of the starting QB that had been unavailable for 2 straight games (after being injured in Q2 in early September) where he had an uncharacteristically awful performance (see graphic). The graphic explains not only the dramatic performance differences between the two QBs, but also the Jekyll and Hyde (mostly Hyde) performance upon return from injury.
As you can see, Huntley (pre-injury) blew away both hurt Huntley (shocking, I know) and Troy Williams. Most important might be the TD numbers, you can see 15 TDs for Huntley and only 2 for Williams, additionally, Huntley ran for 4 TDs while Williams ran for zero. This is my hypothesis (which I’ll elaborate on momentarily), I think that Huntley truly created a dual-threat offense. The Utes have always been reasonably successful running team even when everyone else knows (seriously — I’ve spent time in the student section and they literally would call out “handoff to the left” and it would happen). By being able to throw in a real passing threat (and catching threat in Darren Carrington) it takes a very effective running team, and removes other team’s ability to solely play the run. Once Williams took over, you’ll see the average per completion only decreased marginally, but they became a minimal threat — which suggests that they leaned far more heavily on their run game.

QB involved pts*Hundley’s stats include ONLY the 2Q he played in for 9/22 game

The graphic above looks at the points for (PF), points against (PA), and the difference in those margins. As you can see, when they switched QBs their points per game decreased more than four full points per game. Perhaps the more telling indication of the dramatic shift in the teams strategy (and resulting performance) is the final column, QB involved TDs. As you can see Huntley either threw for or ran for 19 TDs whereas Williams was involved for only 2. This indicates that they handed the football to Zach Moss who tried to run the ball to the endzone, which is basically what happened. Arguably the two most painful losses of the season Stanford and USC, were by a combined total of 4 points. For the rest of the season Huntley would lead the Utes to 4 addition points per game. In fact, the next graphic supports my theory perfectly, where i’ve isolated the rushes, rushing yards, and yards per attempt (YPA) with Huntley and without Huntley. I’ve excluded Zach Moss’ decimation of Colorado (196 yards, 26 attempts, 7.5 yards per attempt, and 2 TDs) from this because it is an anomaly. This was the game where “giving the ball to Moss” worked wonders, by excluding this phenom performance, we are getting a more accurate sample of the success of the team. When you couple the loss of basically an entire yard every rushing attempt, with Williams providing 1 less average yard per pass, and a little more than 1.5 yards per QB rushing attempt. You can see that Williams vs. Huntley had a huge impact on the season.
The Utes graduated/lost about 70% of their receiver production this last year, but they also get back one of their top performers from a few years ago. Here is a look at the incoming/returning players slotted at wide receiver. A lot of these players have had their time limited by more senior players getting the snaps, but as part of Utah’s “next man up” philosophy all of the players have to be able to step in and produce.

*Britain Covey’s statistics are from the 2015-2016 (he’s been away on his 2-year LDS mission)

So, basically what I’m trying to get at for all you Ute fans, you could be in for a nice year if you can keep your team healthy. One final note, we’ve also added Jack Tuttle who was signed early on but received substantial attention from the “bigger” schools in the PAC-12.
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