Bleeding Red: Revenge time for Utes vs. USU Thursday night

No football games has been such a bummer
My sanity was out of whack
But now after a much too short summer
Just like a bad dream I am back

COMMENTARY — And then there were three … days, that is, until Utah’s home opener against Utah State this Thursday night.

Over the past year, my Aggie friends have taken great pleasure in reminding me of Utah’s near-miss in Logan last year. Call it a calculated analysis, a gut feeling or downright wishful thinking, but I seriously doubt that the Utes will drop two in a row to the Aggies, especially with the upcoming game on Utah’s home turf.

Once upon a time, the Oldsmobile automobile brand re-invented itself, with its marketing catch-phrase being, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Over the past offseason, the Utes have also re-invented themselves to a large extent, and this is simply not the same team that lost in Logan last year.

One of the most impactful changes has been Dennis Erickson stepping in as Co-Offensive Coordinator with Brian Johnson. I have been consistent in my faith in Brian Johnson’s ability to become a very good OC in the long-run. I have been equally vocal about the growing pains Brian Johnson, and by extension, Utah’s offense, will experience in the short-run. Erickson’s arrival changes the whole equation, adding immediate experience and expertise, while Johnson continues to learn how to fly.

One of the more notable changes in the offense this year is the up-tempo pace at which it will be playing.

On the other side of the ball, the defense is also emphasizing speed and athleticism. Stud safety Brian Blechen has been moved back to linebacker Also, depending on the defensive scheme employed at any given time, linebacker standout Trevor Reilly will move up to defensive end. Even though he won a slam-dunk contest among football players during halftime of a Runnin’ Utes basketball game last spring, thus far Jason Whittingham hasn’t been able crack the two-deep depth chart at defensive end. These are not just football players, they are athletes.

Speaking of athletes, in addition to refined schemes on both sides of the ball, Utah is finally starting to development something in its players that it has lacked since joining the Pac-12 — depth.

For the past two years Utah has been razor thin at both the quarterback and running back positions. This year, Travis Wilson is comfortably in the starting quarterback position, and was recently elected as a team captain. However Adam Schultz is not far behind. While I’m not trying to start a quarterback controversy, I am no longer scared to death that the starting quarterback will go down with an injury. If need be, Schultz is more than capable of stepping in and piloting the offense. In fact, as I have previously pointed out, true freshman Connor Manning may ultimately prove to be the best quarterback of the bunch.

Depth has also improved considerably at running back. Converted fullback Karl Williams stole the show at the spring scrimmage, but has tumbled down the depth chart since. Williams has not become a worse running back since then, but rather Kelvin York and James Poole have elevated their games to the point that head coach Kyle Whittingham describes them as 1 and 1A. With an up-tempo offense integrating the running back into the passing game, multiple capable players at this position should pay dividends.

Much has been said about the departure of Star Lotulelei to the NFL. What Utah’s defensive front lacks in star power, it makes up for in depth, with the ability to rotate multiple players throughout the game to keep fresh legs constantly pressuring the offense.

Of course, as I view life through my crimson-colored glasses, all of these pieces of the puzzle will fit together perfectly as the Utes take the field against the Aggies Thursday night. The reality is that we will not know for sure how the new schemes and personnel will actually work until they are put to the test in a real game.

Don’t let my earlier comments fool you. The Utes’ home opener against the Aggies will be a test as I expect a close and hard-fought game. If the truth be told, I wish Utah was opening with Weber State, instead of Utah State. However, the uncertainty of what Utah is truly capable of doing this year only adds to the intrigue. Like a little kid who can’t wait to open his presents on Christmas morning, I simply can’t wait for Utah to unwrap its new team and put them on the field of play. While I am giddy about the possibilities, I have enough common sense in my otherwise thick-skull to realize Utah has a very thin margin for error in a very good Pac-12 football conference.

Jerry Seinfeld once explained that players and coaches come and go, so fans are basically cheering for laundry. Be that as it may, throw another load of laundry in and hold on tight for the spin cycle because I can’t wait to get this football season started! Go Utes!

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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