Maryland I gets an A: New formation yielding results for football team

After two-and-a-half years of being on the endangered species list, the position of Ute tight end is finally getting a little love.

First-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig instituted the Maryland I formation-or “Black” as the Utes refer to it-in spring ball and has dusted it off to make better use of his personnel late in the season.

“We’ve got some guys that are working real hard at the tight end position,” Ludwig said. “We want to get them on the field, especially inside the 5-yard line.”

The Maryland I is a formation that is unique because of the amount of players that line up behind the quarterback. In Utah’s system, quarterback Brian Johnson lines up under center. A tight end lines up behind him, with two running backs next in line. The result is a single file column of four players (not including the center), giving the Utes plenty of versatility.

Throw in one tight end on either side of the offensive line and you’ve got three happy tight ends on the field at once.

The first time the Utes used the formation was two weeks ago at UNLV. In that situation, Johnson handed it off to one of the backs up the middle. But against Wyoming on Saturday, they used it to pass-with good results.

In the first half, the Utes were faced with fourth-and-1 and lined up in the “Black” formation. Johnson rolled out and found junior tight end Ameen Shaheen wide open on the sideline for the first down. In the second half, they ran the exact same play again, this time netting Shaheen a touchdown catch. The two grabs were the second and third receptions by a Ute tight end this season.

“It was exciting for the tight ends to be able to catch some balls and be a part of the offense,” Shaheen said. “It’s something that obviously we like because we can get all three tight ends on the field.”

While Shaheen, Willie Sao and Chad Jacobsen like the formation because it gives them more playing time, Ludwig said he enjoys having a toy that he can change in as many ways as he wants.

“We’ve got a lot of different options coming out of (this play),” Ludwig said. “It should be a little bit different every week for us.”

Echoing his sentiment is his quarterback, who enjoys being able to show the defense as many looks as possible.

“You never know what you’ll get from us,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s five wide, other times it’s the Maryland I with two backs and three tight ends.”

The inception of the formation has given relief to the long-suffering tight ends. The Utes continue to recruit the position but have rarely used them as receiving targets since Urban Meyer and the spread offense arrived on campus.

Ludwig promised the position would get more playing time upon his arrival, but until Saturday, they were as absent on the field as snow in summer. With the “Black” making its appearance, that has changed, but it is not because of any complaining from the big receivers.

“Those guys are the most humble guys on the team,” Johnson said. “You never hear a complaint. They are hardworking guys who go out and get the job done every week.”

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