QB Brian Johnson

2007 Statistics

Coach: Kyle Whittingham
24-14, 3 years
2007 Record: 9-4
at Oregon State LOST 7-24
at UNLV LOST 0-27
at Louisville WON 44-35
at TCU WON 27-20
at Colorado State WON 27-3
at Brigham Young LOST 10-17
Navy WON 35-32

2007 Final Rankings
AP-32, Coaches-38, BCS-UR

2008 Outlook

The shadow of Urban Meyer is slowly dissipating over Kyle Whittingham. Steady improvements (since the undefeated 2004 campaign gutted the roster) have meant one more win per year since the Provo native earned seven in his initial year as head coach. Things didn't change much strategy-wise after Meyer left with most of his staff (though he gave Whittingham all the help he could in the transition) - the spread is the offense of choice, now run by Andy Ludwig through the capable hands of Brian Johnson, and the swarming defense is built with sizable linemen and keen DBs who lose only one hat for the upcoming campaign.

It all meant mixed offensive results when Johnson injured his shoulder last year and missed three games. Then upon his return, Utah went on an 8-1 run to prove his game management skills have surpassed his raw physical prowess as a dual-threat weapon, one who is amongst the nation's best. Losing only their center from this run-first attack has the line strong with depth, and the running game is going to easily control the time-of-possession numbers. Anyone worrying that Marquis Wilson will be missed doesn't realize the depth at the skill positions. Without a wealth of injuries, this is a guaranteed top 20 offense.

The defense just has to regain interior control to repeat as a top 20 stopping crew. With the deep, experienced secondary already allowing the lowest opposing QB pass efficiency in the nation last year, the LBs become critical since they replace two major cogs. MLB Mike Wright needs to work at being strung out on options, while strongsider Fotu isn't as proven in coverage. Exploited properly, these facts mean the right group of LBs may not have been found yet. Since the DBs can be left alone, extra focus on run stopping will especially pay off if an eighth man can be brought up without consequence. Coordinator Gary Andersen has done more with less, so prospects look good for scoring to stay low and even go lower (it went from 24 points allowed per game in 2005, Andersen's first year as DC, to just under 20 per game in '06 and then down to nearly 17 last year).

The schedule starts with a doozy, but few probably remember the last time Utah went into Ann Arbor. Just like this time, the Wolverines were coming off of a four-loss season in 2001 when the Utes almost stole one the next year in the Big House, but eventually the defense couldn't hold on and Michigan beat Utah 10-7. Michigan won't be taking their first foe lightly after the largest upset in college football history last year against Appalachian State, but the new Wolverine offense isn't running at full speed (while the Ute's is) and that game is much more winnable than casual followers will realize. Oregon State is at home, as is the other revenge game versus UNLV (the Rebels handed Utah its first home shutout since 1967). All of that said, it will come down to one game, the annual game that has defined this program since it was first played in 1946...the finale against BYU for state bragging right and probably the ’08 Mountain West title. This slate is slanted so Whittingham can skate through with possibly one loss and an outside chance for BCS recognition, but just reaching a double-digit win total is a more realistic goal.

This team won't finish any lower than where we have them now. But they could easily surprise and be that mid-major who upsets a storied program (Michigan) - like South Florida did last year at Auburn - to supply instant national recognition, energy that they can parlay into quality poll rankings. This is the best shot Whittingham will have for a few years with Johnson and the stacked, top-rated secondary. If they can get past BYU, the odds they continue the nation's longest bowl win streak (seven) will be good. Let's just see what happens in that first game...

Projected 2008 record: 9-3
K/P Louie Sakoda
QB - 3.5 DL - 3
RB - 4 LB - 2.5
WR - 3.5 DB - 4
OL - 3.5 ..
2007 Statistical Rankings
Total Off:
Sacks Allow:
Total Def:

Passing: Brian Johnson, 181-272-10, 1847 yds., 11 TD

Rushing: Darrell Mack, 253 att., 1204 yds., 12 TD

Receiving: Bradon Godfrey, 50 rec., 524 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Louie Sakoda, 19-22 FG, 38-40 PAT, 95 pts.

Punting: Louie Sakoda, 73 punts, 44.3 avg.

Kicking: Louie Sakoda, 19-22 FG, 38-40 PAT, 95 pts.

Tackles: Stevenson Sylvester, 86 tot., 45 solo

Sacks: Stevenson Sylvester, Paul Kruger, Mike Wright - 3 each

Interceptions: Sean Smith, 4 for 0 yds.

Kickoff Returns: Brice McCain, 18 ret., 23.3 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: Marquis Wilson, 1 ret., 7.0 avg., 0 TD


OFFENSE: Tommy Grady-QB, Derrek Richards-WR, Brian Hernandez-WR, Matt Sims-TE, Kyle Gunther-C
DEFENSE: Martail Burnett-DE, Gabe Long-NG, Malakai Mokofisi-SLB, Joe Jiannoni-MLB, Kyle Brady-RLB, Steve Tate-SS

This will again be an offense that puts most of its eggs in the basket of dual-threat Brian Johnson. Andy Ludwig knows the Baytown (TX) native is a gamer, a guy who can throw an INT and then execute a perfect play-action pass to win the game on the very next play. Johnson runs this spread attack in the same improvisational way Alex Smith did, making split decisions that are almost always right when hindsight in the film room proves his smart play. Sure, the numbers for Johnson went down across the board compared to his 2005 campaign (his last healthy year), but the most recent win totals under his leadership speak volumes - the then-junior was 8-1 as a starter once he returned from a shoulder separation to make 2007 the best team win total under coach Whittingham yet. The shoulder injury probably cost three wins and a possible foray into the chaotic BCS tussle that was the '07 college football season. The stat that did improve - his 66.5 completion percentage - was only surpassed by 13 other QBs, so his 54th ranking in efficiency doesn't really tell the whole story on him. Expectations for one of the top running QBs are high now that it seems he has taken a proverbial corner, one that takes him towards his beckoning potential. Sophomore Corbin Louks is a bit smaller but a step faster than Johnson. He will be tutored by Johnson the same way Smith taught Johnson the subtle aspects needed for that extra bit of production, yards which equal more points/wins. Louks seems like Johnson in that he is just awaiting his shot to show his ample wares. The offense slows down if Louks is put in, but it may not mean any less ability for the offense to achieve its objectives.

What Ludwig didn't have to do was sub out for Darrell Mack much since he was head and hands above the other RB choices. Yes, Mack is back, and he looks faster and better than he did in gaining 1,200+ yards and scoring 15 total TDs (12 rushing). His one knock, that he doesn't block so well, opens the door for a guy who does, Matt Asiata. A broken leg kept Asiata's '07 campaign from counting, so the junior still has two years left here. Asiata, who is faster than Darrell, will keep Mack from having to "carry the load" in the one-back sets since the JUCO product also plows so well for Johnson's runs/scrambles with his huge frame and deceptive speed. But the guy really turning heads this spring has been Eddie Wide, the fastest of this trio. Appropriately, Wide has added 20lbs and seems to have become a power runner more than the scat-back type he was upon arriving. Wide stood out at a number of different places at which he was lined up this spring, shifting the focus enough to force three RBs to be considered since all have raised their individual (and therefore the collective RB) bar(s). The odd guy out this spring was oft-injured Ray Stowers, the No.2 rusher last year who didn't lose a single yard on his 47 carries. If Stowers is on the back-burner, then newbie Sausan Shakerin will probably redshirt. Add in the QBs' running prowess to see why stopping the Ute ground attack will be priority one for defenders.

The receivers left much to be desired this spring, but it was due to vacancies, not a poor showing from the starters. Big Freddie Brown got extra reps due to the injuries, and they were needed as he started spring slow, but then floored by the end. Brent Casteel is still nursing the leg that was broken in the second game of '07; this kept him from being the best Ute snarler, which will be what he is still considered coming into fall. That is a slight to Marquis Wilson, but we intentionally say this to motivate Wilson to reach his high potential. Off-field troubles have kept this rare Ute four-star prospect from ever being an impact player here (except at PR). Without Wilson, Brandon Godfrey is the lone returning starter and the top returner for catches. The former transfer/walk-on is an over-achiever and a genuine leader. A pair of three-star JUCO guys come in and will see reps right away since the spread offense needs depth to the multiple-WR sets. Dudley LaPorte had the most catches (50) of any junior college tight end, so his arrival should also impact the ability for Utah to find yardage downfield. Rugby enthusiast Brad Clifford also looks like he will give senior Colt Sampson a challenge for reps.

The line stays pretty much intact, with only the center boasting a new face...and that face looks to be Zane Taylor's. The three-time Utah prep wrestling champ was a DT who took to the OL captain's position very quickly and displaced heir apparent Tyler Williams. The other returning starters are also 300+-pounders who can move when needed. Caleb Schlauderaff took over at left guard when Corey Seiuli hurt his ankle against UCLA, and the running game seemed to kick into a higher gear with the personnel change. The Schlauderaff-Seiuli battle will only make everyone better as limits are pushed in a good way. Besides the left guard replacement, the rest of the OL started the entire season together. Zane Beadles has started since his freshman year, controlling his side nicely. Like Beadles, RG Rob Conley garners All-MWC status. Improving senior Dustin Hensel is the biggest OLman, but his footwork is solid for any job needed. The backups - especially Watts, Williams and Seiuli - will be able to fill any gaps in front of them without the O skipping a beat. Without any weak points, this offense, which is already balanced, should moderately improve numbers across the board.


RB Darrell Mack


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Brian Johnson-Sr (6-1, 205) Corbin Louks-So (6-0, 185)
RB Darrell Mack-Sr (6-0, 219) Matt Asiata-Jr (6-0, 235)
Ray Stowers-Sr (6-0, 223)
WR Freddie Brown-Sr (6-3, 215) John Peel-Sr (6-2, 196)
WR Brent Casteel-Sr (5-10, 193) Marquis Wilson-Sr (5-11, 175) (susp)
Elijah Wesson-Jr (5-11, 175)
WR Bradon Godfrey-Sr (6-3, 197) Jereme Brooks-So (5-9, 170)
TE Colt Sampson-Sr (6-4, 250) Brad Clifford-So (6-4, 245)
OT Zane Beadles-Jr (6-4, 312) Walter Watts-So (6-2, 300)
OG Caleb Schlauderaff-So (6-5, 300) Corey Seiuli-Sr (6-3, 320)
C Zane Taylor-So (6-3, 305) Tyler Williams-Jr (6-1, 300)
OG Robert Conley-Sr (6-1, 316) Neli A'asa-So (6-2, 305)
OT Dustin Hensel-Sr (6-7, 320) Tony Bergstrom-Fr (6-6, 290)
K Louie Sakoda-Sr (5-10, 178) Ben Vroman-Jr (5-11, 187)



The run stopping wasn't bad by any means in '07, but losing Burnett will hurt since finding another who can supply so many TFLs and sacks is usually tough. The replacements for the nose guard positions are both strong candidates, especially Isley Filiaga - he set the state's prep record with a 475lb bench press. Filiaga came from BYU, so the hungry sophomore is still an underclassman after sitting out last year and will be a great Ute for years to come. He doesn't have the spot sewn up since Kenape Eliapo is regarded by the Utah OLmen as the best tackle this spring. Lei Talamaivao looked great for seven games, then he proved why freshmen are often not ready for the rigors of an entire collegiate-level football season. He "hit the wall", so to speak, and learned from that disappointing experience how to use the off-season to tone up. Tonga was a JUCO transfer who also had conditioning troubles last campaign, but everyone says both DTs have shown vast improvements this spring to buoy possibly the defense's biggest area of concern. One of the three incoming froshes will be expected to contribute. The ends are still strong, even without Burnett - Paul Kruger is actually an ex-QB prospect who just killed at everything he did as 21-year old freshman (had an INT, five pass break-ups and three sacks to tie for third on the team in each, led the Utes with three fumble recoveries and had the fourth most tackles). Koa Misi moving back to his more natural position will also help. Many thought Misi was the top DLmen last year; his foray inside due to injuries showed leadership by example that will only increase. It is no small statement to say Misi was the third leading Ute tackler, and his starting nod means Greg Newman will not go to Ann Arbor as a starter in his last year here...oh well, since Newman is an excellent utility guy like Misi who can slide inside and will see plenty of time. Ever since Urban Meyer was here, Utah has been a great example of a mid-major that still fields a big enough line that they can compete on equal size-speed terms with BCS-aligned foes (just ask UCLA).

Las Vegas ex-TE Stevenson Sylvester headlines a LB corps that will start slow but pick up steam as they gel. Sylvester covers both the run and pass equally well, proven by his 10 TFLs and five pass break-ups. Junior Mike Wright did a serviceable job as a replacement, but he needs to step up his gap shooting and block shedding to bolster that front interior we know is stocked by new faces. The knock on Nai Fotu was his coverage skills, but improvements seen this spring show he is no longer a/the weak link underneath. Gaison and Martinez are the top reserves, but few behind the starters know what to expect. This can be a great unit if they just rely on each other.

The strength of the defense will again be the secondary. How much better can the No.11 pass defense get? Well, with almost every member of the two-deep returning, moderate improvements are expected. The corners are led by Brice McCain, the defense's most tenured player and possibly the team's fastest (10.3-seconds in the 100). McCain plays much bigger than his 5'9 frame reflects, as evidenced by his 26 starts. Sean Smith was the team leader in INTs (four), and he got them in the seven games before he lost his starting role; this 6'3 junior is an ex-RB/KR who reciprocates McCain's ability to send business his way...foes will again be stuck, unable to throw away from either/both. That usually makes the third receiver a safe option, but with ex-RB R.J. Stanford topping McCain and Smith for total (solo) tackles after commandeering Smith's starting spot, no receivers are safe once across the line of scrimmage. Stanford plays physically against the run better than Smith, reflecting Smith's need to stop thinking about tackling since he hasn't quite achieved that killer defensive mentality yet. JC-transfer Tanner and third-fastest Ute Burton are emerging, so Jones could redshirt if these two pass him in summer practice to provide the depth needed. Joe Dale has climbed the learning curve quickly, earning Poinsettia Bowl Defensive MVP honors for his career high in tackles (12) and game-saving INT to stop Navy's final drive. Dale needs to work on his pursuit during laterally developing plays and/or options, with his marginal ability this way the main reason the Tate/Johnson tandem was chosen after two starts last year and why R.J. Rice and Deshawn Richard are on his tail for the start this time. Rice served well as a starter when forced into the role, and his work ethic (which keeps the 5'8 senior on top since others have better physical packages for ruling the deep middle) is contagious. Richard has the stopping skills along the line, but it's Terrell Cole's three forced fumbles (led team) that get his number called for the dime looks. Robert Johnson makes foes sing the blues, as proven by his over-the-top performance versus UCLA that earned him Nagurski and MWC Defensive Player of the Week status. Shoulder surgery was unavoidable after the injury that hindered Johnson's 2007 efforts lingered into the off-season and would have meant more marginal results. As the nation's top efficiency defense, only two teams forced a worse completion percentage (Utah's was 50.47) and only Southern Cal tied them for allowing the least aerial scores (nine).

All that has to happen for this defense to again be the Mountain West's tops in scoring allowed is for the run stopping to be a top 40 unit. Last year was the first time since the undefeated 2004 season that the Utes allowed only two teams to break the 30-point barrier. Along with last year's 29.6% rate during opponent's third-down tries (ranked 5th nationally), many signs point to further Utah defensive dominance.


CB Brice McCain


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Koa Misi-Jr (6-3, 263) Greg Newman-Sr (6-4, 260)
DT Lei Talamaivao-So (6-2, 290) Aaron Tonga-Sr (6-2, 305)
NG Isley Filiaga-So (6-0, 305) Kenape Eliapo-Jr (6-0, 303)
DE Paul Kruger-So (6-5, 255) Derrick Shelby-Fr (6-3, 240)
SLB Nai Fotu-So (6-1, 232) Kepa Gaison-Jr (5-11, 230)
MLB Mike Wright-Jr (6-2, 230) Matt Martinez-So (6-0, 230)
RLB Stevenson Sylvester-Jr (6-2, 220) Mo Neal-Fr (6-2, 220)
CB Brice McCain-Sr (5-9, 189) Justin Jones-Jr (5-10, 170)
CB Sean Smith-Jr (6-3, 217) R.J. Stanford-Jr (5-11, 180)
SS Joe Dale-Jr (5-11, 197) RJ Rice-Sr (5-8, 190)
FS Robert Johnson-Jr (6-3, 190) Deshawn Richard-Sr (6-1, 196)
P Louie Sakoda-Sr (5-10, 178) Ben Vroman-Jr (5-11, 187)




Only nine other kickers in the nation had better field goal percentages than Louis Sakoda's 86.4%. Also an All-American (FWAA) as a punter, Sakoda has just about the best combination foot in the land. The 37th-ranked net results were consistently off from Sakoda's 11th-ranked punting efforts, so the hungry depth at DB will have an outlet by which to measure themselves. Casteel looks like the "return man de jour" if Wilson is not available, but McCain and his super fast DB brethren seem like decent options for any return needs.