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Camp Kyle 2020: Team Notes

Oct 8, 2020

The University of Utah football program officially begins fall camp today at the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center. The Utes are coming off one of the best seasons in program history, winning its second-straight Pac-12 South Title with a young and talented team returning to the gridiron this fall.

Team Notes
Kyle Whittingham, the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and the third-longest tenured coach at the same school in the NCAA FBS, is in his 16th season at the helm at Utah in 2020.

  • He holds a 131-64 overall record as a head coach, ranking as the second-winningest head coach at Utah behind Ike Armstrong (141-55-15).
  • He has contributed to more victories than any coach in program history (216) with 11 seasons as an assistant coach.
  • He has led the Utes to back-to-back Pac-12 South titles and has won National Coach of the Year recognitions – two in 2008 and one 2019. He was the AFCA Coach of the Year and Bear Bryant Award winner in 2008, and the Dodd Trophy Coach of the Year in 2019, also winning Pac-12 Coach the Year last season.

The Utes earned a spot on the 2020 AP Preseason Poll, landing at No. 22. It is the second-highest preseason AP Poll rank the Utes have received since 2015, after being voted No. 14 in 2019.

  • The Utes have either been ranked or received votes in the last six AP Preseason polls, finishing the year ranked or receiving votes in four of those years. The Utes surpassed their preseason AP rankings in 2016 (P rank: 30th, FR: 23rd) and 2015 (P rank: 30th, FR: 17th).

The University of Utah football team will play a seven-game conference-only schedule in 2020. The Utes will play five games against the South Division and one crossover game against the North (Oregon State). The seventh game for each team will involve all 12 programs, highlighted by the Pac-12 Championship Game with the other games selected after the two championship teams are determined.

  • The Oregon State game will mark the latest date on the calendar that Utah has played a home game since 1903. The Utes have played just one home game in the month of December since that year, when they hosted UCLA on Dec. 1, 1962.
  • Of Utah's six regular season opponents this season, head coach Kyle Whittingham has a winning record against four of them (Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon State).

The Utes were picked to finish third in the South Division in the 2020 Pac-12 Preseason Poll.

  • In four of the last five seasons, the Utes have either exceeded their preseason ranking or placed in the top-three of the South Division as voted, including winning back-to-back Pac-12 South Titles in 2018 and 2019.
  • Utah exceeded its preseason rankings in 2018 when they were picked to finish second in the outh, but won, also being picked fifth in the Pac-12 South in 2015, going on to tie for the South Division regular season title.

Junior TE Brant Kuithe earned a spot on the Pick Six Previews Preseason All-America team while five Utes have also earned spots on preseason watch lists.

  • Kuithe is on the watch list for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, recognizing the nation's college offensive player of the year.
  • Junior LB Devin Lloyd is up for the Butkus Award (nation's best linebacker) and the Wuerffel Trophy (community service award).
  • Graduate Transfer QB Jake Bentley is currently in the running for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Maxwell Award (college player of the year).
  • Junior WR/Ret. Britain Covey is on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in college football.
  • Senior LS Keegan Markgraf is on the watch list for the Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the nation's best snapper.

Offensive Notes
Andy Ludwig is in the second year of his second full-time stint on the Utah coaching staff as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

  • In 2019, the Utes led the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (201.4), passing efficiency (174.05), completion percentage (72.6%) and third-down conversion rate (46.3%).
  • The Utes ranked second in the FBS and broke the league record for completion percentage in 2019, also ranking eighth in the FBS in passing efficiency.
  • Utah had five games with 500 yards or more of total offense in 2019, the most for the Utes since 2005 (also under Ludwig).
  • He also saw the Utes score 30 or more points 10 times in 2019, the most by a Utah team since the Ludwig-led 2008 offense.

The Utes enter preseason camp with three quarterbacks listed on the depth chart in senior/graduate transfer Jake Bentley, sophomore Cam Rising and senior Drew Lisk. Both Bentley and Lisk enter the year with Division I game experience on their resume with Bentley starting 33 games at South Carolina (2016-19) and Lisk seeing action in six games with the Utes.

  • Bentley held a 19-14 career record as a starter at South Carolina, ranking in the top-five in the Gamecock record book in career completion percentage (.625), pass completions (626), passing touchdowns (55), passing yards (7,527) and total offense (7,670).
  • Rising redshirted at the University of Texas prior to transferring to Utah, ranking as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the nation out of Newbury Park HS.
  • Lisk, who was awarded a scholarship in the summer of 2018, played in four games last season, going 7-of-9 passing for 52 yards which included a perfect 6-for-6 passing against Idaho State.

Utah had 3,187 yards passing in 2019 with 2,722 of those yards coming at the hands of the Ute receivers and tight ends. Out of the 2,722 yards recorded by Utah's receivers and tight ends in 2019, 78-percent of that production is returning in 2020 (2,137 yards).

  • All-Pac-12 tight end Brant Kuithe returns as Utah's receiving yards leader from a year ago, recording 602 yards on 34 receptions with six touchdowns, adding six rushes for 102 yards and three rushing touchdowns. His 17.7 yards per catch ranked second among FBS tight ends in 2019.
  • Junior Bryan Thompson returns as Utah's leading receiver after racking up 461 yards on 18 catches, and three touchdowns. He averaged a team-high 25.6 yards per catch in 2019.
  • Senior Samson Nacua scored the most touchdowns by a wide receiver in 2019, finishing with four. He had 18 catches for 330 yards, averaging 18.3 yards per catch.

Like the quarterback position, the Utes will see a new face at starting running back for the first time in four years. Junior Devin Brumfield and sophomore Jordan Wilmore return as Utah's top two performers in the running back room.

  • Brumfield finished second on the team among running back in 2019 with 263 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
  • Wilmore played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, recording 49 carries for 194 yards and a touchdown.
  • Junior TJ Green also returned from injury in 2019 to rush for 68 yards and a touchdown.

On the offensive line, Utah will return four of its five starters from 2019 where the Utes led the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (201.4).

  • Between the four returning starters, they combine for 72 starts as a unit. Orlando Umana enters the season with the most game experience, playing in 39 career games with 25 starts.
  • Three of Utah's offensive linemen earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2019 with Nick Ford, Simi Moala and Umana all receiving recognition.
  • Braeden Daniels started all 14 games in 2019 as a redshirt freshman, the first time a freshman started every game in his first season in the Kyle Whittingham era.

Defensive Notes
Morgan Scalley enters his 13th year overall and fifth as the defensive coordinator for the Utes in 2020. He also continues to coach the safeties.

  • The Utes ranked seven in the FBS in total defense in 2019 while also leading the Pac-12 in rushing defense in three of the last four seasons.
  • Utah led the Pac-12 in total defense, passing defense, rushing defense, scoring defense, red zone defense, first downs allowed and third-down defense last season.
  • The Utes recorded the best statistical season by a conference team in the Pac-12 era in three categories: total yards (269.2), rushing yards (81.8) and points allowed (15.0).

Junior LB Devin Lloyd returns as Utah's tackle leader from 2019 and the anchor for the linebacker room. He had 91.0 tackles (11.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks) last season.

  • Lloyd was one of just three sophomores ranked in the top-10 in the Pac-12 in total tackles in 2019.
  • It was the first time since 2016 that a sophomore led the Utes in tackles after Chase Hansen had a team-high 90.
  • Nephi Sewell played in the final three games of 2019 at safety, switching to linebacker in the spring.
  • Newcomer and JUCO transfer Jeremy Mercier brings experience to the linebacker group this year, earning Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year at Gila River CC.

Three of Utah's four starting defensive linemen were drafted by the NFL in 2019, leaving junior Mika Tafua as the Utes' only returning starter on the line. History repeats itself though for the Utah defensive line as they continue to revamp and reload with depth and experience.

  • Tafua started in 13 games in 2019, recording 47 tackles (8.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) with a team-leading four fumbles recovered, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
  • The defensive line has four returning seniors in Viane Moala, Maxs Tupai, Hauati Pututau and Pita Tonga. The quartet has 117 games played between them with Pututau seeing the most action at 39.
  • Tupai has started nine games in his career at Utah, including eight in 2018. In 2019, Tupai recorded 21 tackles (3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack).
  • Fun fact on newcomer Tanoa Togiai – he comes to Utah from Rigby, Idaho, the same hometown as former Ute and Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, who recently passed away.

The Utes will welcome a brand new secondary to the gridiron this fall after five 2019 starters are all now with NFL teams. The initial pre-camp depth chart shows junior Bronson Boyd and sophomore JaTravis Broughton at left and right cornerback, sophomore Malone Mataele at nickel back, and R.J. Hubert and Vonte Davis at safety. Davis enters the season with the most game experience, playing in 28 career games for the Utes after transferring from Blinn College in 2018.

  • Hubert returns to the field after playing in 13 games in 2019, earning the starting nod in three. He racked up 22 tackles, including a career-high seven against Washington State.
  • Boyd will look to make an impact for the Utes on defense after starting his career at wide receiver, seeing action last year in all 14 games and on defense against Idaho State, Oregon State and Colorado.
  • The Utes also brought in one of its strongest secondary recruiting classes with the addition of safeties Nate Ritchie and Kamo'i Latu, cornerback Faybian Marks , and nickel back Clark Phillips III. Phillips was rated the No. 4 cornerback in the country out of high school while Ritchie was rated the No. 4 recruit out of the state of Utah.

Special Teams
The Utes return their starting snapper, placekicker and punter to the field in 2020 in Keegan Markgraf, Jadon Redding and Ben Lennon, adding in All-Pac-12 return specialist Britain Covey for a well-rounded special teams group.

  • Covey is a two-time All-Pac-12 returner and was a Freshman All-American in 2015. He currently ranks sixth all-time at Utah in career punt returns (55) and is eighth in punt return yards (536).
  • Redding tied the school record last season in PATs made (56) in his debut year, going a perfect 56-of-56. He was 10-of-13 in field goals with a long of 42 yards vs. Oregon State.
  • Lennon had 20 punts land inside the 20-yard line in 2019, finishing the year with a 40.9 punt average on 44 punts for 1,800 yards.