What to watch for: Utah's Red-White Spring Football Game
After an up-and-down 2012 season that saw Utah go bowl-less, the Utes hope to get back to their winning ways in 2013 with a strong finish to spring practices.
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The annual Red-White Spring Football Game will be the showcase event for the program on Saturday at noon PT as the first of three spring games on Pac-12 Networks that day. While there are fewer questions about the quarterback spot than in years past, there are still plenty of interesting angles to keep track of as the Utes strap on the pads one more time before fall camp:
The impact of Dennis Erickson
Few coaches know the Pac-12 as well as the former Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State head man. After taking some time off, the 65-year-old is back on campus coaching as the Utes' co-offensive coordinator, bringing plenty of experience to a team that has struggled to find a rhythm on that side of the ball. There has been a number of different coordinators and offensive systems put in over the past few years in Salt Lake City, so the hope is that Erickson can help his fellow co-coordinator Brian Johnson make sense of them and establish an identity.
The evolution will first show up in Utah's tempo this season. The team played very slowly last year and likely will turn the pace of play way up from what fans have been used to. We'll have to see exactly how fast the coordinator tandem wants the team to play, but Erickson said at his introductory press conference that he wants the team around 75-80 snaps per game and will use plenty of no-huddle to get up to that number.
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Rebuilding the defensive line
From the Kruger brothers to Star Lotulelei and plenty of others, the Utah defensive line has been one of the most consistent in the country. They ranked second in the conference against the run last season and hitting that ranking in 2013 would seem to be quite tough given what Kyle Whittingham and company have to replace. Few staffs have to replace three starters on the line, so filling some holes up front is item No. 1 defensively for the team.
[Related: Utah 2013 football schedule]
Progress in the backfield
After a few years of up-and-down quarterback play, the Utah fan base was no doubt encouraged about the future once freshman quarterback Travis Wilson took over and showed flashes down the stretch in 2012. Progress will be the name of the game with the young signal-caller, and having both Johnson and Erickson coaching him up is encouraging on that front. Still, the passing game wasn't great overall last season and Wilson will have to get on the same page with a solid group of receivers.
Defenses likely will key in on the quarterback a bit more in 2013 with the departure of the reliable John White at running back. Kelvin York figures to be the guy at the spot, but he's not been the featured back since high school and will have a drastically increased workload this season. Should be an interesting backfield to keep track of.