The first 3 quarters playing the Aztecs in Los Angeles last Saturday caused a lot of Ute fans to wonder what the hell is going on.  The offense generated 3 points, Brit Covey doubled that on an 80 yard punt return, the same lack of execution and LOS penetration seen in Provo was making life difficult on both Charlie Brewer & Micah Bernard.   Ugly football.

After going into halftime knotted up at 10-10, on the first possession of the 2nd half the defense gave up a long TD drive mostly composed of SDSU’s athletic QB sprinting for 55 yards on a zone read run, then Brewer throwing under pressure into coverage and getting picked, which led to a quick 2 TD deficit & after another stalled drive, Cam Rising coming in at QB.

After a couple of series to get his feet, Captain Rising changed the equation, was able to both evade pressure and deliver strikes to the variety of receivers we’d been hearing about, in the process getting the Aztecs to drop into coverage rather than bringing the cavalry every down and squeezing coverage.

After wiping jubilation off faces on the SDSU sideline by tying up the game late on a TD to UCLA/OU transfer Theo Howard with 16 seconds left, Rising threw another TD on the first play of OT to returning Ute Jaylen Dixon, and delivered an apparent 2 point try in the 3rd OT to Connor O’Toole, which was reversed on review, ending the game. 

On the day, Rising was 19/32 for 153, with TDs to Covey, Dixon and Theo Howard.  With the Aztecs bringing pressure early, Rising also picked up 46 on the ground.  Between Brewer and Rising, the Utes impressively spread the ball to 10 different receivers.

So, now what?

Ute fans are left wondering which way this team is headed, going into our first PAC game vs Washington State this Saturday at RES.   One clear answer is an end to any possible QB controversy – Charlie Brewer left the program early this week.

It’s a good thing we’re playing Wazzu first, because in their first PAC game vs USC, in Pullman, they were torn apart by the Trojans, with Corner Canyon’s Jaxon Dart coming in to replace Slovis, who got injured.

The conventional wisdom in the preseason is that Utah should be able to handle Washington State fairly comfortably, but I think everyone is back to taking things one game at a time, just like the team approaches things.

Washington State

After Mike Leach left Pullman to try his schtick at Mississippi State, the administration brought in Hawai’i coach Nick Rolovich, who was the Hawaiian Death Turf QB when the Rainbows ended BYU’s run at a perfect season in 2001.  Rolovich has bounced around a lot, but ended up being the HC at his alma mater, running the same offense his mentor June Jones used in college & for a bried time in the NFL, the Run-N-Shoot.   Most Ute fans won’t be able to tell the difference between the Run-N-Shoot and the Air-Raid offense perfect by Leach, as both are predicated on a short passing game to as many as 5 WRs, with no use of TEs. The Run-N-Shoot failed miserably in the NFL under June Jones, but it can be a difficult offense to contain, relying on “smurf” receivers who are quick & find openings.

Chalk Talk – Run-N-Shoot vs Air-Raid: what’s the difference?

They look almost identical, but there is a difference.

The biggest difference is when the reads are made. The Air Raid is about calling the plays at the line that will defeat what the defense is showing, while the Run and Shoot can stay in the same playcall all game and just run different route trees against whatever the defense does after the snap.

Both require smart quarterbacks who can make accurate throws and reads, but a QB trained in the R&S is going to be a newborn babe if throwin into an Air Raid system because he won’t know the pre-snap checks. Air Raid is all about racing to the line of scrimmage, catching the defense in some sort of base that they can get into quickly, and running the plays that beat it. For this reason Air Raid teams will run “Mesh” (a subject of a future What Is for sure) a ton! because Mesh is a good Cover 1 beater (really a good everything-beater) and Cover 1 is a good defense to use if the offense is racing to the line of scrimmage and you don’t have time to call anything else.

What Is: Brandon Jacobs Talking About? Why, the Run ‘n’ Shoot of Course! | mgoblog

The Pullman Cougars played 3 different QBs vs USC, including Jayden de Laura, who was involved in Utah’s great 45-28 comeback last year to save a winning season (and etch the name of Drew Lisk in Ute history as a walkon QB hero in a memorable comeback, in Ty Jordan’s last game).  The other QBs who played last week were Cammon Cooper from Utah County, and Victor Gabalis.  Somehow the Cougs only had 4 players with receptions, but long time pain in the side RB Max Borghi had 75 yards on just 13 rushes, for 5.5 ypr.

WSU defensive leader Jahad Woods’ and De Laura’s trauma from last year’s meltdown in SLC is a guarantee Washington State will be primed on Saturday.

Utah Defense vs WSU Offense

LIke the AirRaid, the Run-N-Shoot will create headaches because the QB gets the ball out so quickly, it’s tough to get pressure on the QB without bringing LBs and DBs out of coverage.  The DL need to get their hands up and swat a few balls, which new starter Devin Kaufusi should be able to help with, at 6-7.  Across our front we have good size, so getting hands up will make a difference over the course of a game.  If Mika Tafua can draw a double team in pass protection, this helps, as well, changing the numbers game in our favor and allowing Lloyd or Sewell (or McKinney / Phillips / Marks) to bring pressure.

Though WSU has a quality RB in Max Borghi, they typically don’t do a lot of damage on the ground, though Borghi can be a thorn in a DC’s side by keeping the run D honest, and as a relief option out of the backfield.  Expect Wazzu to run our WRs ragged.  It may become an all hands on deck situation with guys like Zemaiah Vaughn #16 and Aaron Lowe #22 platooning in to give the 1s a breather.

Since the Run-N-Shoot involves WRs adapting their routes during the play, this would be a good game to play some bump and run, disrupt routes to complicate the QB’s job in reading multiple matchups. Playing the Washington State offense, whether it’s AirRaid or Run-N-Shoot is always a pain in the ass, kind of like playing Air Force.  Getting the defense off the field is imperative.  And if we get into a shootout with them, that leads to…

Utah’s Offense vs WSU Defense

Getting pasted at home to the tune of 40 points means Wazzu’s defense will be angry, and primed for redemption… with perhaps some doubt creeping in about whether they’re ready for a PAC schedule.

Coincidentally, Utah’s offense has some questions they’d like to answer in the affirmative, beginning with can we handle pressure in the air game, and can we create creases in the run game?

My sense is the OL is making slow but steady progress, and having a mobile QB helps take the pressure off up front.   Wazzu would be negligent to not bring pressure, and Rising will respond by targeting the TEs, getting the ball to the WRs on the perimeter quickly to let Ludwig see how the defensive schematics are.  This will be a good game to get the run game re-established.  Bernard was bottled up at SDSU, and we found out the 2 at RB is TJ Pledger, in the mold of John White IV in terms of size, quickness and speed.  In our first year in the PAC, John White terrorized Washington State at Pullman, in a blizzard, and got their coach fired.

Cam Rising got a variety of WRs involved in the short time he was running the offense last week, and I expect that to continue on Saturday.  Solo, Kuithe, Kinkaid, Howard, Dixon, Vele, Fotheringham… I think everyone wants to join Rising in getting the Utah offense really on track.  And I think the guys up front are ready to silence – or at least reduce the number of – their critics.

Special Teams

Redding is ready to get back on track, and the KO coverage unit I think wants to eliminate the breakdowns that have resulted in an inexcusable 2 TDs given on KOs.  Punt protection needs to improve, though Peasely has done a decent job of punting.

Summary Utah has looked flat in the first three games.  With a major change in the QB situation, and based on how the team responded last week when Rising came in, I think this team is ready to get the bad taste out, erase the doubts, prove the pessimists wrong.   I don’t know if we’re a polished product yet, but I think we’ll prevail on Saturday with a lot of energy.