Football: Utes Open Season Against North Dakota

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Wide receiver Darren Carrington II smiles and flashes the U at the end of the Utah Utes football practice at Ute Baseball Field on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Rishi Deka | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Justin Adams

The wait is over. Football is back at the University of Utah as it is set to kick off its season against North Dakota on Thursday, Aug. 31. While questions still remain on how the newly named starting quarterback Tyler Huntley will perform, how the transformation of the offense that offensive coordinator Troy Taylor has taught the team will look and how the offensive line that lost four Utes in the NFL Draft last season will mesh together, one thing is set in stone – on Thursday, it will all be on display.

For the first time during its Division I era, the Fighting Hawks start their season in the top 10 of the preseason polls, while Utah, who owns a 38-0 record against current members of the Big Sky Conference, was on the preseason Coaches’ poll at No. 25.

Utah has welcomed in not only new faces, but play-makers, to the program and head coach Kyle Whittingham is looking forward to seeing what they will bring on Thursday and over the course of the season.

“[We] lost obviously a lot of talent off of last year’s team,” Whittingham said. “But [we] got some new guys that are stepping up. It’s their opportunity, it’s their time to show what they can do.”

Oregon transfer Darren Carrington II is one who Utah speaks highly of, and he is expected to be a big force on the offensive side. Huntley said Carrington, who was Oregon’s leading receiver last season with 43 receptions for 606 yards plus five touchdowns, has changed the dynamic of the offense.

“He’s brought a lot to the table,” Huntley said. “He helps spread the field. He’s playing a great role and [will] help us win.”

Along with newcomer Carrington, there are several true freshmen and redshirt freshmen who Whittingham believes will make a “significant impact,” but when the bright lights turn on and they step on the field, Whittingham is looking forward to watching how they perform because everybody handles that type of situation differently.

On Thursday evening, Whittingham said the coaching staff will be looking at the overall mechanics of the offense with hopes to see smoothness transpire. It’s being more efficient, making sure the offense runs as its desired to run, taking care of the football, throwing better that last season, getting chunk plays up the field and having flawless substitutions between groups that Whittingham wants to see.

When it comes to the red zone woes that occurred last season, Utah believes those cries won’t be heard like they were last year.

“There’s a lot of things that we didn’t do well in the red zone,” Whittingham said. “So we have a lot of things to improve on there, which we think we have in spring and through fall camp and it’ll be a whole new look down there with Troy’s offense. But that was a definite liability for us last year. …. If we had been really good in the red zone it had been a completely different story.”

Utah has learned from its past and has left it there. With a new slate, the team is ready to get to it. Utah’s quest to win its 10th straight season opener begins at 5:30 p.m. MT at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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