Posted on October 1, 2020
By Gianna Cefalu of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12
Posted on October 1, 2020
With Pac-12 Conference set to begin a seven-game football season the first week in November, Utah fans will no longer have to wonder how a hypothetical season might have gone. Instead, Ute football will soon be back in full swing.
Having lost seven players from last season to the NFL, the success of this year’s team will depend on other players stepping up as leaders on both sides of the ball.
For starters, there’s some big shoes to fill in the quarterback and running back positions, with Tyler Huntley and Zach Moss moving on to the pro ranks.
Senior quarterback Jake Bentley will look to carry the momentum from Huntley’s 2019 season into this year. After suffering a foot injury that limited his playing time to just one game last year, the South Carolina transfer hopes to make the best of his final year of eligibility. Bentley is an experienced leader, having started all 33 games for the Gamecocks, and Utah will be counting on him to take charge of the offense.
With spring football cut short due to COVID-19, there was little time for Bentley to gel with Utah’s wide receivers. Fortunately for Utes, student-athletes have been allowed to hold voluntary practices since early June, giving them an opportunity to prepare as best they could without coaches.
The key to Bentley’s success will be to build trust and chemistry with senior receiver Samson Nacua and junior Britain Covey. Nacua had 18 catches for 330 yards in 2018, and he’ll have an opportunity to improve those stats for 2020.
Covey redshirted last year due to a torn ACL, but is figured to become a leading receiver this season. In 2018, he carried the Utes with 1,174 all purpose yards, so the bar is set higher than ever for Covey to excel in 2020.
Another key offensive weapon to watch is junior tight end Brandt Kuithe. As with Nacua and Covey, he has played a huge role in the Utah offense, and that is expected to continue. Kuithe turned in a stellar performance in 2019, leading the team with 34 receptions.
With a handful of returning receivers, coaches will be more concerned with finding a replacement for Utah’s all time leading rusher, Zach Moss.
Junior running back Devin Brumfield had the privilege of learning under Moss, who helped shape him into Utah’s second-leading rusher. Brumfield played in all 14 games last season, and if he can stay healthy and consistent this year, he should make a huge impact as the starting running back.
On the offensive line, Junior Nick Ford will play a crucial role in protecting Bentley, allowing him to stay in the pocket instead of scrambling or getting sacked.
Clearly, the Utes have quite a few key offensive weapons returning for 2020. The bigger question is, What about the defense?
Utah lost nine starters, including three defensive lineman, five defensive backs, and one linebacker. That leaves only two returning starters on defense, Devin Lloyd and Mike Tafua.
Tafua will ultimately replace the Sack King Bradlee Anae, who broke the school record with 30 sacks. The defense will certainly have a fresh set of faces, as the majority of the defensive backs and defensive tackles are freshmen and sophomores.
No doubt, the 2019 Utah defense was historic. The group was nationally recognized, and in contention with defenses like Clemson and Ohio State for the best in college football. Consequently, the defense this year may not be as strong as it was last season.
Lloyd and Tafua will have to challenge themselves and their teammates as leaders of the unit, if the Utes are to have another winning season.
Utah may have lost more players than usual on both sides of the ball, but Whittingham and his staff have proven over the years that they have what it takes to turn three-star recruits into NFL prospects.
The “next man up” mentality will be the true test in preparing for the Conference-only season.
Utah has been Pac-12 South Champions for two straight years, only to come up short in both championship games. Without the luxury of non-conference games, the Utes must bring their “A-game,” if they want to repeat for the third year in a row.
This is an unusual year for football, with no raucous fans to keep Rice-Eccles Stadium rocking and roaring. That shouldn’t keep Utah’s new and veteran players from bringing the energy into every game.
You can read Cefalu’s other sports stories and columns at the Daily Utah Chronicle.
—Recent Gianna Cefalu Stories—
- Cefalu: Former Utah Defensive Backs Already Shining as Rookies in NFL
- Cefalu: Breaking Down Utah’s 2020 Football Position Groups
- Cefalu: Game-by-Game Look at 2020 Utah Football Season with Predictions
- Cefalu: How Will Utah Fare Against Crossover Opponent Oregon State?
- Cefalu: Alex Smith Remains the Greatest Quarterback to Play in a Utah Jersey
- Cefalu: Previewing and Predicting a Hypothetical Holy War
Cefalu: Former Utah Defensive Backs Already Shining as Rookies in NFLJaylon Johnson, Julian Blackmon, and Terrell Burgess have had promising first seasons - October 26, 2020
Cefalu: Breaking Down Utah’s 2020 Football Position GroupsA look at some of the likely contributors at key positions this season - October 22, 2020
Cefalu: Game-by-Game Look at 2020 Utah Football Season with PredictionsAt third Pac-12 title game isn't likely, but the Utes should turn in another strong season - October 15, 2020