DB Eric Weddle

2005 Statistics

Coach: Kyle Whittingham
7-5, 1 year
2005 Record: 7-5
at TCU LOST 20-23 (OT)
at North Carolina LOST 17-31
at Colorado State LOST 17-21
at UNLV WON 42-32
at Brigham Young WON 41-34 (OT)
vs. Georgia Tech WON 38-10

2005 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2006 Outlook

The first year under Kyle Whittingham may have seemed to show drop off after arguably the team’s best coach ever left. But do not be deceived by their 7-5 record from 2005 – three of those losses were by four points or less, including the three point OT defeat against vaunted conference foe TCU. This home game (10-5-06 versus the Horned Frogs) will decide the Mountain West winner, and Utah has the wares to take the crown away from them. Consistency on defense will be their key to the title and a successful season.

Coach Kyle should be able to direct defensive improvements from last year’s disappointing 59th-ranking for total D, for he was their coordinator under Urban Meyer. Gary Anderson, the new DC and assistant coach, is a defensive line specialist, and with this area (really the entire front seven) needing to step up the most, the experience and depth the Utes now field there will do the trick. Well-sized and just as mobile, their second year under Anderson means Utah’s sophisticated schemes should come together.

Offensively, this team is stacked in each of their talent units, especially at QB and WR, so only the line has to overcome its issues inside (at center) to give what is needed. How they decide between dual-threats Ratliff and Johnson, or if they rotate them (which is not likely) is a great problem to have. Either is good enough to finish in the nation’s top 10 rankings for QB efficiency, and therefore, no one misses Alex Smith one bit. Utah did have a scoring drop off in the fourth quarter (only scored a total of 44 combined points), and defensively, they also let in the most points in the closing stanza (88), so if they can just get 60 minutes worth of fury, this team should even make a top 25 ranking by November (at the latest).

UCLA (away) is a challenge for their opener, but this game and the one at the end of September when Boise comes to town are the only non-cons against whom they can prove themselves. Both tilts could go either way, which will dictate whether UU makes a case for returning to the BCS. Still, their ever-improving conference features several teams who, if Utah isn’t careful, could again upset any title plight, so we again point to consistency being all they need to have to make the most of this talented roster. Rice-Eccles should be rocking with five of their last eight there, which means there is no excuse for Utah not placing themselves back on the national map of college football.

Projected 2006 record: 9-3
QB Brian Johnson
QB - 4.5 DL - 3
RB - 3 LB - 3
WR - 3.5 DB - 3.5
OL - 3.5 ..

Passing: Brian Johnson, 330-210-7, 2892 yds., 18 TD

Rushing: Brian Johnson, 152 att., 478 yds., 8 TD

Receiving: Brian Hernandez, 39 rec., 709 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Brian Johnson, 8 TD, 48 pts.

Punting: Louie Sakoda, 54 punts, 37.1 avg.

Kicking: none

Tackles: Casey Evans, 89 tot., 43 solo

Sacks: Eric Weddle, 4 sacks

Interceptions: Casey Evans, 5 for 19 yds.

Kickoff Returns: Brent Casteel, 20 ret., 23.2 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: Eric Weddle, 24 ret., 6.4 avg., 0 TD


OFFENSE: Quinton Ganther-RB, Travis LaTendresse-WR, John Madsen-WR, Chad Jacobsen-TE, David Dirkmaat-OG, Jesse Boone-C, Dan Beardall-K
DEFENSE: Steve Fifita-DT, Kite Afeaki-DL, Spencer Toone-LB, Grady Marshall-LB, Eugene Oates-CB, Tim Harris-SS

There is just too much talent here for one team to field. Brian Johnson, who looks and runs like No.1 NFL pick Alex Smith, was stellar as a freshman. The all-MWC second teamer has picked up the Ute’s spread attack and applied his talents accordingly. Johnson finished second in team rushing, but more importantly, he finished ranked 11th in the nation for pass efficiency. The loss to New Mexico saw Johnson tear his ACL, and he is still recovering throughout the summer. Then Brett Ratliff stepped in the last two games and soared. The JUCO-transfer is bigger than Johnson and had a better efficiency rating in winning both of his starts – the 38-10 drubbing of Georgia Tech has to mean he is currently their choice. Then there is Tommy Grady, a transfer from Oklahoma who is 6’7 and just as highly anticipated. Grady is more pocket-oriented, and his decision making skills make up for his lack of running. The only problem is how he transferred to play more, yet still could get splinters from sitting on the bench. Ratliff and Johnson fit into the spread scheme best, but in their four-WR sets, Grady would mean little change(s) play-calling-wise (they would become less “dimensional” if defenders knew only RBs would be carrying the ball). With so many qualified signal callers, what a problem to have.

Running Back
After losing only the school’s eighth 1,000-yard rusher (Ganther), coaches are concerned about who will start, but we think the talent pool is deep enough to float a number of candidates. Darrell Mack has decent size and can take the corner well – he only lost three total yards on his 39 carries. The sophomore has bulked up even more, so he seems to be the tops (for now). Senior Daryl Poston has received extra eligibility due to perennial knee problems, and the former-prep all-American has never really made the impact promised. But since he started at USC as a freshman (then transferred), this speedster should finally hit. Then there is Mr. Reliable, Mike Liti. Sized well, he is the best blocker of these three and has started (three times in 2003). Liti, like the others, has soft hands – none can be ignored as they go out for the pass, or foes will pay. Wildcard Brent Casteel got the rock 35 times, and lines up in the backfield (H-Back) as often as he does at WR for matchup problems galore (38” vertical leap). Even more depth exists with two quality incoming froshes, so it is just a matter of time until the depth chart here writes itself. Even after a starter is named, RB-by-committee will assure that 60 minutes of fresh legs give Utah another strong showing in their one-back approach.

There are too many qualified bodies here, too – the Utes will continue to spread the ball evenly all over the field, and foes therefore cannot stop them all. Brian Hernandez is the lone senior starter in this corps. This six-foot JUCO-transfer gets YAC galore and should still be able to win jump balls after recovering fully from off-season ankle surgery (part of 4x400 state champs, 4x100 runner-up in prep). Brent Casteel is officially part of the starting group here and is just as good after the catch, though he runs underneath routes more often. Sophomore Marquis Wilson (set state prep records for career TDs, yards and average per catch; see Returns section below for his sprint records) and junior Derrick Richards, both similarly sized (5’11, 175lbs.), round out those who can stretch the field at will. Two other 6’3 guys, Freddie Brown and former-RB Sean Smith, will see reps and cause their own matchup problems as DBs concentrate on the others. The list goes on and on – the Utes are stacked like few other schools, and no one in their conference will be able to keep this area in check in their sophisticated scheme(s).

Tight End
The buzz in Salt Lake is that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will expand the roles here, but the spring prospectus fails to list the TE position as a starting capacity. Hmm. Redshirts Lance Bordeleau and Chris Joppru, along with fellow (incoming) frosh Bubba Tuinei, will be the “hands-on” guys, while a trio of former-DLmen will be the “pushers”. Expect to see a TE instead of an H-back about a third to half of the time.

Offensive Line
There is good news and bad news. The good news comes from the outside - it is covered as two proven tackles return to start. Senior Tavo Tupola will protect the QB’s blindside well. The Kahuku(HI)-native is super quick for his 300lbs., and will surely again earn all-MWC status (second teamer in ’05). Jason Boone is just as big and fast, and is already a leader as he played the most of any returning lineman. The all-academic (MWC) junior will help bring down the team’s total of 29 sacks allowed while plowing holes for the RBs. Inside, soph Rob Conley rose from his backup status to take the right guard spot from now-LG Eric Pettit, who will have to fend off a JUCO-transfer and a redshirt freshman to keep his status. This competition (depth) will bode well for the Utes with whoever gets the final nod. But the bad news is at center – no experience here could unravel the unit’s cohesiveness. Kyle Gunther seems to have the inside track, but his only experience is on special teams, and it was limited. If the injury bug hits, most of the depth is relatively inexperienced across the board. For big men, these guys (most handpicked by ex-guru-HC Urban Meyer) match up well against major-conferenced opponents (as proven in the Emerald Bowl versus Georgia Tech; UCLA is the ’06 opener), possess excellent footwork and can do whatever is needed, as long as they act as a unit in this complicated yet subtle offense.

Last year - the first year without offensive architect Urban Meyer - was successful with new OC Andy Ludwig running the show, and things here should only improve. Utah finished 12th in both total offense and in passing, a testimonial to how well Ludwig (also) coaches these QBs and runs his own version of the spread. Expect no drop off as there is too much firepower here to say anything less will happen in ’06. Many point to the RBs and say little experience will mean lesser results (32nd in ground production last campaign), but the potential there runs just as deep as any other talent area. The QB problem is that three extremely qualified guys have to realize one (or more) might not see much action, if any, as the starter is named and that person takes off like Johnson did last year. Ratliff wouldn’t have seen any snaps if Johnson’s knee hadn’t blown, though Ratliff has the inside track with his amazing showing and Johnson still recovering through the summer, but it is hard to call that race, too. The line could be marginal if the outside shines but the inside struggles as expected, but the expansion of the TE spot and quality blocking backs (Mack, Liti) should allow those crazy schemes Utah runs to work, regardless. Lots of reverses (super-quick Eric Weddle sneaks a few of these) and fakes in their three- and four-WR sets will continue to keep pursuers flat-footed as option after option can burn even BCS-aligned-quality defenses. Ludwig’s second season here will be even better and make many think Meyer never left.


OT Tavo Tupola


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Brian Johnson-Jr (6-1, 199) Brett Ratliff-Sr (6-4, 224)
RB Darrell Mack-So (6-0, 216) Darryl Poston-Sr (5-11, 197)
Mike Liti-Jr (5-10, 215)
WR Derrek Richards-Jr (5-11, 175) Freddie Brown-So (6-3, 217)
WR Brent Casteel-So (5-10, 193) Sean Smith-Fr (6-3, 207)
WR Marquis Wilson-So (5-11, 173) Bradon Godfrey-So (6-3, 198)
WR Brian Hernandez-Sr (6-0, 175) Fano Tagovailoa-Sr (6-1, 202)
OT Tavo Tupola-Sr (6-3, 300) Terrence Apted-So (6-3, 317)
OG Eric Pettit-Sr (6-4, 306) Zane Beadles-Fr (6-4, 308)
C Kyle Gunther-Jr (6-4, 302) Jeremy Inferrera-Jr (6-3, 292)
OG Robert Conley-So (6-1, 311) Corey Seiuli-So (6-3, 326)
OT Jason Boone-Jr (6-4, 294) Dustin Hensel-So (6-7, 322)
K Louie Sakoda-So (5-10, 175) Ben Vroman-So (5-11, 187)



Defensive Line
After a marginal showing and losing their top guy, the euphemism here is how the glass can be seen half empty or half full depending upon the breakdown. The Utes gave up four per carry and earned a modest 29 sacks, but they also have three returning starters who are upperclassmen (two seniors and a junior) who all show the promise/potential to make this area improve. Martail Burnett and Soli Lefiti have the ends covered. All-around athlete and former-safety Burnett (Open End) has the most overall ability (4.6 speed), but Kaneohe(HI)-native Lefiti is the right size to make the most of his chances. Depth here is unproven but seems worthy. Paul Soliai, a former OLman (and JUCO all-American), is sure to garner double-teams, which will free his line-mates. Senior NT Kelly Talavou also has the size-footwork combo to make his inside presence felt, and he can even cover in the flat. All of these starters are well-rounded (not being sarcastic, though they are big individually) and just need to stay fresh for 60 minutes to make this the strength of the defense. The reserves coming in at tackle/guard in this year’s recruiting class just need time and then they will guarantee that Utah’s entire line is (at least) a notch better.

Joe Jiannoni leads a pack of junior starters who are the biggest question mark on this side of the ball. Jiannoni really made an impact at MLB last campaign, but becomes the “rover” and has huge shoes to fill (departed Spencer Toone led MWC – and the team - in tackles). He shouldn’t disappoint, but filling Toone’s spot in the middle is where doubts are raised. Loma Olevao and JUCO-transfer Chet Blasucci are both big enough to plug up running lanes, but former-WR/TE Olevao and outside candidate RS-frosh J.J. Williams have the speed needed for the best quality in (underneath) coverage. The “stud” LB position is well-stocked with starter Kyle Brady, Utah’s prep “Mr. Football (2002), and Malakai Mokofisi bringing the heat. Like the line in front of them, this corps has to take it up to the next level so the defense can be consistent, which was a big problem last year. As this group goes, so goes the whole D, and therefore the whole team.

Defensive Back
The conference’s Defensive Player of the Year returns, and Eric Weddle will again prove why he is the best player Utah has at any position. Weddle moved up into his current cover spot by demand, and still can produce across-the-board stats as he cancels out whoever he is on that day (Emerald Bowl Defensive MVP as he smothered all-American Calvin Johnson). He is on our second team all-American squad, so you know this two-way player brings the wood early and often (three forced fumbles) – his number is called by announcers seemingly all day. Complimenting him is Shaun Harper, who is a bit slow (4.52 in the 40) and small (5’9), but seems to also get the job done. Senior strong safety Casey Evans was second team all-conference and the six-footer can close the gap in coverage deceptively well (five INTs led team). Free safety Steve Tate brings the most experience (transferred from Utah State after 2001 season). This local product and former-walk-on will provide as much leadership as Weddle, which will allow this entire unit to improve on its 47th ranking in efficiency. Quality depth means coverage against those MWC pass-happy foes can keep up, too. The potential here could make them a top 10 unit, and the Bruins will let us know right away whether they are capable of such or not.

This is an area that cost the Utes some losses in ’05, but should improve within all areas. The line, through hard lessons, learned much, and it is now mostly seniors. The size and mobility they possess means they just have to come together as a unit to be all they should. The LBs are supposed to be the question mark, but experience here, too, will overcome their realignment. The front seven’s ability to stop the run and pressure opposing QBs will be the ripple that bolsters the rest of the defense’s dimensions, for the secondary is stacked with Eric Weddle and two safeties, any of whom can do it all. With head coach Whittingham the team’s former defensive coordinator, there are no excuses for this D not to dominate in their conference (second last year in total yards and scoring allowed), and since we know the offense will click, the team’s destiny rests on whichever eleven they are fielding. Utah cannot again allow the fourth quarter to be one where opponents score the most. Similarly, they cannot force third downs only to allow a 40% success rate. If we see the same marginal slipping this campaign, you can bet there will be a price to pay in the loss column.


DB Casey Evans


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Martail Burnett-Jr (6-3, 248) Alex Puccinelli-Jr (6-1, 236)
DT Kelly Talavou-Sr (6-2, 307) Bryce Scanlon-So (6-2, 274)
NG Paul Soliai-Sr (6-4, 318) Kenape Eliapo-Fr (6-0, 290)
DE Soli Lefiti-Sr (6-4, 265) Casey Sutera-Jr (6-3, 262)
SLB Kyle Brady-Jr (6-1, 232) Malakai Mokofisi-Jr (6-2, 228)
MLB Loma Olevao-Jr (6-1, 232) Chet Blasucci-Jr (6-1, 241)
ROV Joe Jiannoni-Jr (6-1, 230) Taylor Miller-Jr (6-1, 222)
CB Eric Weddle-Sr (6-0, 200) Ryan Smith-Jr (5-10, 165)
CB Shaun Harper-Sr (5-9, 180) Brice McCain-So (5-9, 178)
SS Casey Evans-Sr (6-0, 202) Kyler Rushton-Fr (6-0, 203)
FS Steve Tate-Jr (5-11, 197) Joe Giuliani-Fr (6-1, 201)
P Louie Sakoda-So (5-10, 175) ..




Louie Sakoda will step in to now handle placekicking needs along with his already-strong kickoff ability. The sophomore has a big leg, but his punting duties will be relieved by Brent Rawlings. Sakoda has never hit from past the 47 yard-line (prep longest), so, until proven, Utah will not be able to achieve three points until they get the ball inside the 30. With Weddle as their holder, expect the unexpected. Sandy-native Rawlings will provide the same punting quality - he can force fair-catches while dropping it inside the 20 just as well as Sakoda could. Net results should improve from the Ute’s dismal 82nd ranking due to expansions in the team’s defensive depth.

Return Game
Weddle is another special teams weapon in UU’s punt return arsenal. This was one area where Weddle wasn’t all that, failing to average even seven yards per return, but his speed and vision of the whole field should come to bear eventually. WR Marquis Wilson set the state prep record in the 200 meters and won the 100 (2A) twice, but this local sax player hasn’t proven much with his chances (longest of his five PRs was seven yards). Whichever proves the most in preseason camp will surely bolster the Ute’s PRs. Brent Casteel has been much more of a commodity on KRs. Officially, these spots won’t be decided until the fall, so it is obvious the coaching staff will leave all options open until someone steps up.