By Kyle Kensing
Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior running back Mike Bell will lead the Wildcat ground attack today when the team takes on Utah in the season opener.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 2, 2005
Whether Utah can replicate its 46.3 points-per-game average from last season remains to be seen heading into tonight's season opener, but the Utes' offense will keep some of its flavor.
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said he expects Utah defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Kyle Whittingham and former Oregon offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to employ the spread option offense.
The Utes used that a season ago to produce more points per game than just about every squad in Division I-A.
And the Wildcats have planned for just that.
"The option is a hard thing to cover, and every day we go over some option things," said sophomore cornerback Antoine Cason.
The Utah offense has the quarterback taking snaps generally out of a shotgun formation. Past Ludwig-led offenses in Oregon and Fresno State also employed the shotgun set.
The Utes typically line up one back alongside the quarterback. Friday, that will be senior Quinton Ganther, who steps in for the departed Marty Johnson.
The one-back set allows Utah to line up four wide receivers, many of whom will be new to the Arizona secondary.
The Utes lost nearly 60 percent of last season's receptions in the departures of Paris Warren and Steve Savoy, but return a pair of dangerous wideouts in John Madsen and Travis LaTendresse.
"Everybody has to stay in our gaps and be disciplined," Cason said. "Nobody can do another person's job on the field."
Gone from the 2004 Utah squad is quarterback Alex Smith, catalyst of the team's 500-yards-per-game attack.
2004 Record: 12-0 (7-0 Mountain West Conference)
Returning Starters: 10 (five offense, five defense)
Key Losses: Alex Smith (QB), Urban Meyer (head coach)
In his place is sophomore Brian Johnson, a player whose inexperience, Stoops said, should add an extra dimension to the option.
"We've got to see how this quarterback reacts, see what his skill level is," Stoops said. "Throughout the game I think we'll get a better feel."
Stoops said Johnson doesn't possess the same passing prowess as Smith, who registered 2,624 passing yards in 2004.
What Stoops said Johnson does bring to the table is strong mobility, something the option encourages of quarterbacks, who often keep the ball when their other options are covered.
"We can't let (Johnson) get confidence out of the option," Stoops said.
Running the ball isn't Utah's only offensive strength, as the Utes present their attack in a variety of ways, said senior defensive end Marcus Smith.
"It's difficult to defend because of all the ways they can run it," he said. "If you get in the wrong spot, they'll crease your defense and go for a long play.
"Not just one person has to be right (when guessing the play). The whole defense has to be right."
Utah often sends wide receivers and backs into motion prior to the snap, forcing defenses to adjust quickly and without warning.
"I have different roles depending on our calls, but usually (my focus) will be on the quarterback," Smith said.
- Staff writer Charles Renning contributed to this story.