SALT LAKE CITY — In his first season back with Utah, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig did wonders with the Utes offense.
Ludwig transformed an above average offense in efficiency to the 15th most efficient team in the country a year later as the Utes averaged 35.6 points per game in the regular season. He also turned starting quarterback Tyler Huntley into one of the most potent quarterbacks in the nation, which included a top 15 all-time national completion percentage record, en route to a top 5 spot in the country and a narrowly missed opportunity at the College Football Playoff.
Ludwig knows how to adapt to his personnel and makes his star athletes shine.
"Andy does a great job of maximizing each of the players' strengths and what they do best," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We talk about that all the time around here: it's not about the plays, it's about the players, and we don't really necessarily start with the scheme. We start with: 'OK, what does this guy do best? What does that player do best? Where are their strengths?' and then tailor the offense to those various skill sets, and getting the right guys the ball in space."
As Utah opens up its modified fall camp session Friday ahead of a delayed 2020 season, Ludwig will be forced to retool the offense again without Huntley or all-time leading rusher Zack Moss suiting up in the backfield. But his experienced cadre of wide receivers and tight ends, and two highly-touted quarterbacks battling for the top signal-caller spot has him optimistic about the upcoming season.
"We're committed to doing whatever it takes to win," Ludwig said. "So if the strength of the offense is on the perimeter, and the quarterbacks are up to the task, then things will open up, and I really feel like last year we played to the strengths of who we were and stayed true to who we were through the course of the season.
"Every year is different," he added. "We take a lot of pride in our ability to adapt and adjust to the personnel within the scheme. First and foremost, that will always start with the quarterback position, but there's no doubt that the depth and the talent level at the wide receiver and in the tight end position is going to warrant the ball being in the air more than it was a year ago."
That experience on the perimeter will be highlighted by the multi-talented resource and experience of veteran receiver Britain Covey, who is coming off a knee injury and redshirt season in 2019. Covey, Ludwig said, will be used all over the field this season.
"Brit Covey is like a guerrilla warfare player, where he's not — I'm not saying that Brit Covey is an X receiver, R receiver, slot receiver, outside — he's everything," Ludwig said. "He's going to line up as a running back, he's going to line up in the slot, he's going to lineup in the perimeter, he's going to be moving, getting carries out of the backfield, getting carries from the fly sweep positions, things like that."
Ludwig told Covey he has to "be prepared to adapt and adjust week in and week out as we work to implement plays and design schemes that highlight his skills and abilities, which he has a tremendous skill set." Defenses will have tape on the receiver that started way back in 2015, but Ludwig will utilize Covey's skill set to keep defenses on their toes in hopes to contain him — but even then, Ludwig will flip the script the next week, or so it seems.
But an effective offense has to start with a dynamic quarterback, and Utah believes it has at least two guys, South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley and Texas transfer Cam Rising, that can keep them in contention for a third Pac-12 South Division title in as many years. Whittingham said he hoped to have a starter named within two weeks of camp starting, but an exact timeline is not a given.
Ludwig said Rising has an "edge" in the competition after having been with the program for a season and having some time in the press box to see how Utah operates its offense. But Ludwig said it "seems like Bentley has been here forever" and has "made the absolute most of this unique time in history, and the pandemic, and taking advantage of every opportunity that he's had to not only learn the offense, but learn his teammates and develop chemistry with those guys."
"The thing that they both have in common is that they — neither one of them have ever taken a snap as a Utah football quarterback on game day, so that's kind of the great equalizer right there," Ludwig added.
The quarterback will be integral to Utah's success on offense, but maybe more instrumental and oftentimes overlooked is the offensive line. Utah returns all but one starter on the line, and Ludwig believes that experience and depth will be a big improvement from 2019.
"I think the improvement in the depth at the offensive line is going to be as big a part of that process as anything as we have go on," Ludwig said. "I feel very good about the depth, I feel really good about the talent in the offensive line. And I think that will be a real strength for the Utah offense in this upcoming season."
The offense will need to get things clicking early to potentially offset the learning curve of a defensive unit that is replacing all but two starters. And while there will be a learning curve for the offense, too, there's enough pieces there to believe Utah can hit the ground running and score points.
"We've got to hope that that comes to fruition with the offense playing how we project, and that'll keep us involved in games early in the season as the defense goes through their maturation process," Whittingham said.