SALT LAKE CITY — Everybody loves Andy Ludwig.
At least that’s the message on the first day of spring camp for the Utah football team. The former offensive coordinator turned new offensive coordinator has players loving the change as the team looks to repeat as the Pac-12’s South Division champs.
“I actually love Andy's system more,” running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole said, speaking about Ludwig’s offense in comparison to what Utah ran under former offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. “Coach Taylor's offense was great — speed of offense and everything — but I love this offense more.”
As a running back, Henry-Cole sees the ground game aspect of Ludwig’s system as a benefit to the program, particularly because that’s what he ran at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s also a system that generally highlights the running back as the star of the offense and gives the backs more opportunity to shine.
That suits senior Zack Moss well, who is looking to become the all-time leading rusher in Utah history. But it also suits the plethora of running backs available to Utah this year, including Henry-Cole who returns from a wrist injury that kept him out of the 2018 season.
“It fits me better and everything,” Henry-Cole added.
Ludwig’s system is adaptable, though. He’s able to start with the ground game and use some play-action schemes or open it up to a spread offense. It’s the embodiment of what head coach Kyle Whittingham wants in an offense: get the ball into the playmakers’ hands by whatever means possible.
“We hope it’s fairly seamless, but there’s going to be a learning curve,” Whittingham said of the first-day performance of the offense. “But based on what we saw today it was a good start. There’s several more installs to come as spring wears on.”
Whittingham said the route plays and route structures are “similar” to last season’s offense, but that it will take some time to get everyone used to the system, which will largely be put on display during spring.
That system has been a positive for starting quarterback Tyler Huntley, who led the charge as the team’s premier quarterback throughout practice. Following a season-ending shoulder injury, Huntley added some weight to his frame and looked loose but confident on the field.
And although the schemes are different, Huntley says it’s “just football” and they’ll get the offense down before the season starts. He added that many players have already been through multiple offensive coordinators, so it’s not unfamiliar territory for the team to be learning a new system.
Changes to the roster
Utah released its spring roster last week and it was missing a few names, including defensive back Philip Afia, and linebackers Donavan Thompson and Bryant Pirtle. Afia and Thompson entered their names into the NCAA’s new transfer portal and are expected to leave the program.
Whittingham said there’s still a chance Thompson returns, albeit slim. But a source close to the program said that once Thompson entered the transfer portal, that ended his chances of staying with the team. Teams cannot restrict a player from entering their name in the transfer portal, but they risk losing their original scholarship should they not transfer to another program.
Pirtle, who was also left off the roster, has not entered his name into the transfer portal but has been “dismissed and will not be joining us,” Whittingham said.
He added that Pirtle will not be eligible to rejoin the team in fall and that he will “not be with us.” Details about Pirtle’s release were not given.
Losing Utah’s senior associate athletics director
Last week, Utah’s director of athletics Mark Harlan announced that senior associate athletics director Liz Abel, who has been with the program for 36 years, will be retiring in August. Abel has been the football sports information director since 2011 and has been a key influence to the department.
“She’s been here ever since I’ve been here, so we’re kind of the old timers in the department,” Whittingham said. “I’ve loved working with her through the years. She’s been incredible, an absolute consummate professional, and has, especially early on, helped me with the PR aspects of the job and how to go about your business in that respect. I’m indebted to her and she will be missed, no doubt.”