No. 24 Utah aims to elevate passing attack

NCAA Football

SALT LAKE CITY (AP)Utah could finally have all the right pieces in place this season to add a true passing threat to its traditionally run-heavy offense.

The 24th-ranked Utes are flush with experience and talent at wide receiver and tight end – led by Britain Covey and Brant Kuithe. Covey has led Utah in receiving yards during three of his previous four seasons on the roster while Kuithe finished first in total receptions last season.

”In terms of talent alone, this is by far the most balanced team I’ve ever been a part of in terms of where the firepower is in the offense – quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end,” Covey said.

The Utes also seemingly have the right quarterbacks for the job. Charlie Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons at Baylor before coming to Utah. Cameron Rising is a pro-style quarterback with a strong arm who showed promise before suffering a shoulder injury against USC last season.

”I feel like we’re going to have a very explosive offense,” Brewer said. ”I feel like we’re not just going to be a defensive team. We’re going to be a complete football team.”

A potent passing game would flip the script from earlier seasons where Utah relied on a physical running game and tough defense to grind out victories.

Utah has never ranked higher than seventh in the Pac-12 in passing offense and averaged just 6.7 yards per pass attempt last season. The Utes finished 11th in the league in passing offense in each of the three seasons they won or shared the Pac-12 South crown.

Coach Kyle Whittingham wants to bring more balance to the offense but he wants to do it without sacrificing efficiency or ball security, areas that have been points of strength for the Utes in seasons past.

”We still got to take care of the football and we still got to win the turnover battle each game,” Whittingham said. ”That’s not gonna change.”

EXPERIENCED O-LINE

Utah returns all five starters on the offensive line from last season. Nick Ford headlines this experienced unit as the team’s starting center for a second consecutive year. Ford, who has made 26 starts in 30 career games, earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Covey enters the season with a shot at becoming Utah’s career leader in punt return yardage. The junior receiver currently has 665 yards on 63 career returns. He needs just 228 return yards to overtake LaVon Edwards for the top spot.

TACKLE FACTORY

The Utes return all but one of their top 10 tacklers on defense. Headlining that crew is Devin Lloyd. The junior linebacker led Utah in tackles each of the last two seasons with 139 total tackles over that span. Lloyd earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020 after ranking second in the league in tackles for loss (10).

WELCOME BACK

Jaylen Dixon has rejoined Utah after a one-year absence from the team. Dixon appeared in 28 games at wide receiver, making six starts, during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. His best season came in 2018 when he finished second on the team in total receptions (32) and receiving yards (589) as a redshirt freshman.

SCHEDULE

Utah opens the season hosting Weber State on Sept. 2. The Utes’ fate in the Pac-12 South could hinge on a pair of early October contests. The Utes travel to No. 15 USC on Oct. 9 and then host No. 25 Arizona State a week later on Oct. 16. Win both games and the Utes are in the driver’s seat in the division, with their toughest remaining opponent being No. 11 Oregon, whom they host on Nov. 20.

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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