Know Your Opponent: Utah Brings a Well-Rounded Team into the Foster Farms Bowl

Joe Williams (28) retired mid-season and then came back to run for over 1,000 yards.  Image: Thecomeback.com

Joe Williams (28) retired mid-season and then came back to run for over 1,000 yards. Image: Thecomeback.com

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

Head Coach: Kyle Wittingham (12th year at Utah)
Overall: 103-50 (.673) 12th year
At Utah 103-50 (60-42)
Bowl Appearances: 10
Last Year’s Record: 10-3 (6-3) 
This Year’s Record: 8-4 (5-4)
Postseason Appearances Since 2000: 13 Appearances (12-1 Record)
Mascot: Swoop
Colors: Red and White
Outfitter: Under Armour
National Titles: 0
Conference Titles: 24
Heisman Winners: 0

Fun Fact:

Just before the third quarter for each home game, the Utah marching band plays the Blues Brothers theme (Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose") while a female fan dances in front of them. Originally, the song was played between the third and fourth quarters, but Utah officials moved it to halftime at the start of the 2012 season. The tradition was started by "Bubbles", an elderly fan who danced enthusiastically to the song when the band first played it and thereby helped energize the crowd. The crowd so enjoyed the song and Bubbles' performance that is soon became a tradition. After years of doing her dance, Bubbles retired so "Crazy Lady" took over. Crazy Lady received her nickname from the MUSS, which is the "Mighty Utah Student Section". Before the Blues Brothers' theme begins, the MUSS chants for Crazy Lady to do her dance. Crazy Lady finds her nickname "endearing." 

-Utah Daily Chronicle


 1. Utah Has Similar Issues as Indiana

The Hoosiers and Utes are comparable in more ways than just having similar color schemes. Much like the Indiana, Utah has struggled with turnovers and red zone efficiency. 

Let start with the Utes’ struggles inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Utah ranks 115th in the FBS with a success rate of 76 percent, scoring points on 38 out of 50 trips (25 TDs and 13 FGs). While their field goal rate is good for 35th nationally, their issues are punching the ball into the end zone. Utah ranks 116th in touchdown percentage and have scored only two touchdowns in their last seven trips inside the 20. The Utes do have a tremendous weapon in kicker Andy Phillips, so settleing for field goals is almost a sure thing (We’ll talk more about Phillips and the Utes’ special teams later on).

Turnovers, especially fumbles, have haunted the Utes for most of the season. In the first two contests running back Joe Williams was benched for ball security issues, before retiring and returning to the team. As a team Utah has lost 14 fumbles on the year. Interceptions have also been an issue as quarterback Troy Williams has thrown seven interceptions and has only completed 53.4 percent of his passes on the year. The inability to hold on to the ball is one of the main reasons why Utah found itself at 8-4 instead of competing for a conference title. The Utes had at least one turnover in nine of their 12 games and turned it over at least twice in six games, including six turnovers in a win against BYU and four in a loss at Colorado.

The Foster Farms Bowl could turn into a sloppy affair as both teams have the propensity to struggle in the red zone and turn the ball over while they try and shake off the rust from having about a month off from playing a game.

2. Running Back Joe Williams Had an Interesting 2016 for Utah

Utah’s senior running back Joe Williams had a crazy season. He was benched late during the first two games because of fumbling issues and actually retired from football on September 13th, after running for just 75 yards on 22 carries. Utah’s backfield was so banged up that Williams unretired about a month later on October 11th. Ending his retirement was probably a smart move, seeing that Williams exploded back on to the scene the rest of the year. In the Utes’ final six contests Williams ran for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns, including a ridiculous 332-yard four-touchdown performance at UCLA on October 22nd. Williams’ 1,185-yard season in just eight games earned him an All-Pac12 honorable mention.

Williams, despite his fumbling issues, has a tremendous upside. Here is what Chad Reuter, a draft analyst for NFL.com, had to say about Williams’ running style. “Running behind his pads between the tackles and bringing the heat to defenders whenever possible. A north-south runner, Williams lacks elite agility and struggles to keep his shoulders square to cut quickly once he tries to bounce runs outside.”

Williams makes this offense click at another level when he is successful. The Indiana defense, which has been much improved against the run, will have to slow him down if IU will have any chance to get the win in the Foster Farms Bowl.


3. Troy Williams is a Roller Coaster Ride at Quarterback

Troy Williams is a familiar name for IU fans, but this is not the Troy Williams who both wowed and frustrated Hoosier fans with his play on the hardwood. However, like that Troy Williams, this one has consistency issues as well. The junior quarterback from Carson, California threw for 2,579 yards and 15 touchdowns, while running for 246 yards and five more scores. However, he only completed 53.4 percent of his passes and threw seven interceptions. Williams is a boom or bust type player, kind of like Tommy Armstrong Jr. of Nebraska. He has a strong arm and can run when he has to, but his accuracy issues hold him back from being a really great quarterback. Williams has some good targets at receiver to throw to, headlined by Tim Patrick who lead the team with 643 yards and touchdowns on 43 catches. Raelon Singleton and Cory Butler-Byrd are also main targets for Williams to hit downfield.

If Indiana’s defensive line and linebackers can get pressure on Williams, he will struggle and the Utes could become one-dimensional.

4. Handling the Utah Defensive Line Will Be IU’s Biggest Test

The Utah defensive line may be the best position group on the field and will be a handful for an Indiana offensive line that struggled for most of the year. Headlining the group is defensive end Hunter Dimick. The six-foot-three 270-pound senior garnered All-American honors in 2016 after leading the nation in sacks with 14.5. He lead the team in tackles for loss with 21 and finished fourth on the team in tackles making 53 stops (39 solo).

On the side opposite of Dimick is another outstanding defensive end in senior Pita Taumoepenu, a six-foot-one 245-pound player out of Provo, Utah. Taumoepenu finished second on the team in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (10). Utah’s bookend their defensive line with two of the best in the PAC-12. Indiana’s tackles and tight ends will have to be on top of their game to protect quarterback Richard Lagow.

The Utes’ defense doesn’t take a step back on the interior line as tackles Filipo Mokofisi (278 lbs.) and Lowell Lotulelei (310lbs.) both bring the beef and skill to the defensive tackle position.  Mokofisi played in all 12 games for the Utes in 2016, totaling 43 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks and a forced fumble. Lotulelei, who missed one game in 2016, comes from great pedigree as his brother Star is playing for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. The younger Lotulelei registered 25 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks.

Anyway you look at it, this defensive line is scary good and presents Indiana with a pick your poison type choice. All four of the starters are extremely talented and then Utah can bring in reserves like senior Pasoni Tasini and freshman Bradlee Anae who combined for 34 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

5. The Utes’ Special Teams Are About as Good as it Gets

Aside from the defensive line, the other unit that jumped off the page to both Indiana Head Coach Tom Allen and myself was the play of Utah’s special teams. The Utes have two great kickers in place kicker Andy Phillips and punter Mitch Wishnowsky.

Prior to coming to Utah kicker Andy Phillips competed as an alpine racer on the U.S. Ski Team from 2007 until 2011. In his four-year career at Utah Phillips has hit 80-of-96 field goal attempts (83.3%) with a career long of 53-yards. He is a four-time Lou Groza Award semi-finalist, two-time All-Pac-12 honoree, in addition to being an All-American. Phillips has been called automatic and has come through in many clutch situations. 

Utah has a pretty darn good punter as well in Mitch Wishnowsky, who took home the Ray Guy Award after the 2016 season. Wishnowsky, originally from Australia, has become quite a weapon for the Utes in his first year in Salt Lake City. He finished second in the nation in average yards per punt at 47.98, hit 34 of his 66 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and boomed 28 punts for over 50 yards. Additionally he did not have a punt blocked, however only 19 of his punts were fair caught. So there could be a chance for Mitchell Paige to return a few.

Utah’s return game was great as well as the Utes ranked 13th nationally in average yards per return with 24.48. This unit was led by wide out Cory Butler-Byrd who averaged 27.17 yards on 12 returns including a 99-yard touchdown. Kyle Fulks is another explosive returner who broke a 93-yard return off and is averaging 35 yards on five returns.

Boobie Hobbs, a name worth of the Hall of Fame, is a dynamic punt returner. He has totaled 239 yards on 30 attempts this year and has taken one punt back for a touchdown.

Indiana Head Coach Tom Allen has made special teams a priority during bowl preparations, and Indiana will need to bring its ‘A’ game if they want to win this battle. If the game comes down to a battle of the special teams units, Utah has a clear advantage.