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Utah Football: Bye Week Checklist

What actions during the Utes’ bye week would give them the best chance at finishing their season strong?

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Bye weeks are an interesting but largely ignored part of college football. On the one hand, bye weeks deprive us of football and that makes me really sad. On the other hand, bye weeks can be incredibly important in deciding how the remainder of a team’s season turns out.

Utah, along with Arizona State, had the latest bye week this season in the Pac-12. After nine consecutive games, the Utes finally got a break in Week 10 following a heartbreaking loss to Washington. Despite being ranked in the Top 15, Utah still has many ways in which to improve for their closing stretch of games. Winning their final three games of the season would put the Utes in their first Pac-12 Championship Game. Losing any of the three would open the door for USC or Colorado to get a shot at a conference title. Because of the stakes tied to the remaining schedule, it’s reasonable to say this is the most important stretch for Utah football since joining the Pac-12.

All of these factors combine to make the bye week even more meaningful for Utah. Generally, a bye week is associated with getting rest and having an extra week to prepare for the next opponent on the schedule. In the case of the Utes though, there is so much more that could be accomplished before Thursday’s game against Arizona State. Here is a checklist of things for the Utes to do before the game in order to give them the best chance at a successful end to the season.

Troy Williams Should Retire

Really good athletes tend to retire after distinguished careers and once their skills begin to fade. What do great athletes do? They retire and then come back and play the game better than they did before. Check out some of the greatest athletes of all time, and one really great PED user.

If you want to be really good at something, you need to quit doing it for a while first. Joe Williams figured out that secret when he retired from football after Week 2. Since his return against Oregon State in Week 7, he’s been one of the best running backs in all of college football. Joe Williams is averaging 7 yards per carry for a total of 228 yards per game in his three games since his triumphant return.

Joe has been incredible, and he’s inspired thousands of observers to make bad, “I should retire than I’ll be good at (blank)” jokes. However, part of the reason he’s running for so many yards is he’s getting 33 carries each game. Granted, if you had a dude running for 7 yards every carry, you would run him a lot, but Williams has been Utah’s only offensive weapon.

There’s a lot blame to go around on the offensive side of the ball, and I will absolutely be handing out some more, but Troy Williams needs to get it together. Since the loss to Cal, where Williams was mediocre at best, he has yet to play a game with a completion percentage over 50 percent. In his last five games he has thrown only three touchdowns against one interception. His numbers are close to what Travis Wilson was putting up as quarterback last year. Those numbers are decent for a game manager, but that level of quarterback play is not going to win a team more games.

Troy has two games against terrible defenses (ASU and Oregon) to figure out playing quarterback again before a season defining game against Colorado to end the season. Let’s expedite the process though, and take a page out of Joe Williams’ book and retire. He’s still got a few days to do it before facing ASU. Troy can announce his retirement on Tuesday night, and then at 7:00 on Thursday night he can announce his return in time for the Sun Devils. If we’ve learned anything from Joe Williams, this just might be the key to turning it around.

Stop Using Ask Madden

If you’ve ever played a Madden video game before, you’re familiar with the Ask Madden play calling option. The game will recommend three plays to choose from based on the current game situation on either offense or defense. It’s a handy tool for first time players or players who don’t want to bother learning what the difference between zone and man-to-man coverage is.

If you open the Ask Madden option on the first play of any offensive drive, 95 percent of the time the game is going to recommend three different variations of HB Dive. HB Dive is a mediocre play that runs the ball right up the middle. It will gain you somewhere between 1 to 3 yards most of the time that you use it. To sum up the play: it sucks. This play is probably Kyle Whittingham and Aaron Roderick’s favorite play in all of Madden.

Utah’s offensive play calling seems to fall into two different categories. Run Joe Williams up the middle until he dies and occasionally do other stuff. Utah’s offense lacks creativity. That was the main reason the Utes failed to score on the goal line against Cal and it’s why the team struggled at times to move the ball against Washington. With Joe Williams running the ball well, it’s natural to want to feed him, but eventually teams are going to catch on. Washington did and the Huskies slowed Williams down considerably in the second half of the game. Williams ran for over 100 yards in the first half against the Huskies and barely managed 50 yards in the second half. HB Dive can only work for so long.

It’s time for Roderick to leave the Ask Madden screen and open up the full playbook. The offense needs to do it if for no other reason then it’s unreasonable to ask a running back to carry the ball 33 times a game and expect him to stay effective. Another problem is that predictability does not put anyone in the offense in a position to have success. If you know what your opponent is calling in Madden, it’s a lot easier to stop them, I would say it’s the same thing in real football as well. Eventually somebody will stop you.

So let’s have the offensive coaching staff take the rest of the week to discover some new plays. Maybe a run to the outside. Maybe design a pass play that won’t just be used on third down or on the final drive of the game. Maybe take the play that calls for throwing a Hail Mary from the 35 yard line with a minute left in the game out of the playbook. I don’t know, these are just suggestions. But maybe eventually we can avoid tweeting this out of sadness:

Get Healthy

Injuries suck. Of all the factors that affect how a season turns out, injuries are the one that the team has no control over. There’s a lot of randomness associated with injuries, so a team that avoids any major injuries to key players is well ahead of any competitor. Utah has not been that team this year.

Telling players to simply get healthy is inherently dumb. The coaching staff has no control over that, the trainers do what they can, but even the players themselves have very little control over how their bodies are going to feel each day.

But man does Utah need their playmakers back on the field. Marcus Williams, the best player in the Utah secondary and a turnover machine, has been out since the Oregon State game. Corey Butler-Byrd, the fastest and most dynamic receiver the Utes have, missed the Washington game.

The Utes have missed these two players at two crucial and thin positions. Williams’ absence was felt most during the UCLA game as the Utes gave up big play after big play in route to giving up 45 points. His run stopping skills would have also been incredibly valuable when Myles Gaskin was gashing the Ute defense for 8 yards per carry.

Butler-Byrd carries similar value for the offense. The wide receiver core for Utah lacks a true speed receiver. Butler-Byrd can make players miss and as seen in the Arizona game, can turn a short gain into a huge one. Tim Patrick, who has been hobbled, has been excellent at times, and Utah has other guys who can make catches, but none of them pose the threat to an opposing defense that Corey Butler-Byrd does every time he catches the ball.

If you Utah can get these guys back in good health and on the field against Arizona State, that alone would make the bye week a success. Without them, the offense and defense both lack playmaking that no other player on the roster has been able to compensate for.

Secret Offensive Line Practice

The NCAA has rules about how much a team can practice during a week because, technically, the players are supposed to be students as well. Utah found a way around that rule this week.

During the Utes time off, the team got in on the new social media phenomenon called the Mannequin Challenge. For those unfamiliar with it, the challenge is essentially to stand still in different poses. Once Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” starts playing, then everyone breaks from their pose. That’s it.

Doing these social media challenges are good team building opportunities and they allow Utah to create fun viral videos for the program. I think Kyle Whittingham allowed his team to do this challenge for another reason to though. Whittingham’s secret motive was that this was also practice for the offensive line.

The Utah line had five pre-snap penalties during the Washington game, and that wasn’t even one of their worst games in terms of penalties. You can’t convince me that Whittingham wasn’t jumping at the opportunity to make his lineman stand completely still until the rest of the team started moving.

It probably wasn’t easy. There may have been players who mistook breathing for the start of the song so they began dancing. Or there’s a chance that someone thought the cameraman was a pass rusher so they jumped a little too soon in the name of pass protection. Maybe the reason one player has a sword to his neck at the 0:57 mark is because it was the only way to suppress the urge to false dance.

Kudos to the coaching staff for finding an innovative way to cut down on false starts. Don’t be surprised when the Mannequin Challenge becomes a weekly part of offensive line practice. There’s no better way to make college students want to be disciplined than to tell them they’re being disciplined in the name of internet glory. We’ll see if all that hard work of standing still pays off against ASU.