Utah Utes

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Starting corner Casey Hughes leaving Utah as a grad transfer

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Rather unexpectedly, Utah has a rather sizable hole in its secondary to fill this spring.

On his Twitter account Wednesday afternoon, Casey Hughes revealed that, “after [deciding] it is in my best interest,” he will be transferring out of the Utes football program.  The cornerback gave no specific reason for making what he described as “not… an easy decision.”

As Hughes is leaving as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2018 if he opts for another FBS program.  The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

Hughes started 11 games in 2017, missing two others because of injury.  After taking a redshirt as a true freshman in 2014, the North Las Vegas native played in 18 the next two seasons.  He didn’t start any of those contests.

DJ Johnson gets Miami’s permission to be contacted by eight Pac-12 schools

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It’s not yet known where DJ Johnson will land.  Thanks to one of his social media sites, though, we have a pretty good idea.

Tuesday afternoon, Miami announced that Johnson would be transferring from Mark Richt‘s football program, the third such move in a span of roughly 24 hours.  In confirming his departure, Richt stated that the defensive end “indicated to me that he would like to continue his playing career closer to his family.”

On his Twitter account not long after, the Sacramento native posted a photo of a letter he received from the university’s director of compliance, which specifically states he’s permitted to be contacted by eight Pac-12 institutions — and only those eight — about a potential transfer.  That octet includes Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and Washington.  The latter two schools were two of Johnson’s finalists before he signed with The U last year.

That leaves four Pac-12 schools that were excluded — Colorado, Stanford, Utah and Washington State.

A four-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2017 recruiting class, Johnson was rated as the No. 9 player at any position in the state of California.  Using 247Sports.com‘s rankings, no defensive player in The U’s class last year was rated higher than the weakside defensive end.

As a true freshman, Johnson played in eight games.  He was credited with three tackles.

Ex-Oregon State, Wisconsin HC Gary Andersen (re)joins Utah staff

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The next stop on Gary Andersen‘s coaching journey will once take him back to the Beehive State.

Utah announced that Kyle Whittingham has added Andersen to his Utes coaching staff.  Andersen, who will carry the title of associate head coach and serve as an unspecified defensive assistant, will officially begin his duties Jan. 9, the date the NCAA rule that adds a 10th assistant goes into effect.

This will mark Andersen’s third coaching stint at his alma mater, the first coming from 1997-2202 and the second from 2004-2008.

“Returning to the Utah football family is something my wife Stacey and I are very excited about,” said Andersen in a statement. “Having an opportunity to coach at your alma mater is somewhat unusual and having the opportunity to do it again is certainly special. Kyle Whittingham is a great coach and I look forward to working alongside him again. I am fired up to meet the players and go to work.”

Andersen left Utah the second time to take over as the head coach at Utah State in 2009, where he spent four seasons before leaving for Wisconsin.  After two seasons in Madison, he abruptly left to take the same job at Oregon State.

In the middle of his third season at the Pac-12 OSU, Andersen abruptly quit as the Beavers’ head coach.

“We’re looking forward to Gary rejoining our staff,” Whittingham said. “Gary brings a wealth of high-level coaching experience to the program, including serving as the head coach at two Power Five schools. During his previous time on our staff, he developed some of the best defensive linemen in Utah history. In addition, he is an excellent recruiter and motivator and understands what it takes to win at this level.”

Utah snacks on anemic West Virginia in Heart of Dallas Bowl

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It was hard to decide what was uglier at Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: the drizzly, gray weather with temperatures in the high 30’s, or West Virginia’s performance. In the end, it was probably the latter. Playing without starting quarterback Will Grier and starting running back Justin Crawford, West Virginia was non-competitive as Utah cruised to a 30-14 win.

Utah (7-6) opened the game by forcing a three-and-out, then scoring on a 58-yard Zack Moss burst up the middle to provide what turned out to be the winning margin. After West Virginia notched a short field goal to pull within 7-3 early in the second quarter, the Utes burst the game open for good when Marcus Simms muffed a Mitch Wishnowsky punt, which the Utes’ Cody Barton hopped on at the WVU 13-yard line. Quarterback Tyler Huntley rushed in a 2-yard score three plays later to put the game effectively out of reach at 14-3 with 5:46 left in the second quarter.

A Utah special teams mistake briefly afforded West Virginia (7-6) a window to jump back in the game. With the score at 17-3 midway through the third quarter, Wishnowsky could not handle a punt snap, which West Virginia’s Shane Commodore recovered at the Utah 9-yard line. However, an anemic West Virginia offense could not gain a yard on its next three plays, forcing a second Evan Staley field goal and ending any hope of a Mountaineer comeback.

One early fourth quarter exchange epitomized the state of play in this day-after-Christmas bowl game pitting two teams that came in a combined 13-11 and playing before a mostly-empty Cotton Bowl. Leading 17-6 with the ball at the WVU 32, Utah elected to go for a 4th-and-3 as the fourth quarter opened. Those plans were thwarted when wide receiver Darren Carrington II flinched, forcing Utah to punt on a 4th-and-8 from the WVU 37. However, West Virginia immediately gave that break back by jumping offside on the punt snap. Utah sent its offense back on the field and saw Carrington atone for his mistake by taking a short pass from Huntley and turning it into a touchdown. But that score was called back thanks to another flag, as Ute wideout Raelon Singleton was caught holding after the catch. Huntley eventually notched his second 2-yard touchdown rush of the day four plays later.

Clint Chugunov made his second start of the season at quarterback for West Virginia and was, well, not good. He didn’t get much help from the rest of the offense and he did gut it out through a right leg injury, but the numbers are the numbers, and he hit 9-of-28 passes — including zero second half completions until just before the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter — for 129 yards with one garbage time touchdown and two interceptions. Chugunov missed a wide-open Simms with a chance to pull WVU within 17-10 in the third quarter, his first interception hit Utah’s Julian Blackmon directly in the chest with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and his second pick, also to Blackmon, ended any hope of a miracle comeback after West Virginia recovered an onside kick with 1:50 remaining and trailing 30-14. 

It wasn’t just Chugunov, though. West Virginia rushed for 29 yards, gained 153 yards of total offense, achieved six first downs, converted 2-of-14 third down tries and turned the ball over four times.

Utah improved to 11-1 in bowl games under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Huntley led the Utes by hitting 12-of-26 passes for 165 yards while rushing 25 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns, and Moss added 150 yards and a score on 20 carries.

Utah handling West Virginia halfway through Heart of Dallas Bowl

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At a cold, dreary Cotton Bowl, Utah holds a 17-3 lead over a depleted West Virginia team halfway through the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, Utah got on the board when Zack Moss burst through the West Virginia defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. And considering the state of West Virginia’s offense that score alone may be enough for the Utes.

West Virginia is playing without its starting backfield of Will Grier and Justin Crawford, and backup quarterback Chris Chugunov has played on a gimpy right leg. The Mountaineers put together one good drive, an 11-play, 67-yard march that ended with a 28-yard Evan Staley field goal with 13:05 left in the first half. Chugunov closed the half hitting 7-of-17 passes for 73 yards, and four Mountaineers were credited with 13 yards on 11 rushes. WVU gained three first downs and converted 1-of-9 third downs in the half. 

The score remained at 7-3 until Utah got significant help from West Virginia’s special teams, when Marcus Simms allowed a Mitch Wishnowsky punt to pop off his right shoulder pad and into the arms of Utah’s Cody Barton at the WVU 13-yard line. Utah needed only three plays to capitalize, scoring on a 2-yard Tyler Huntley run at the 5:46 mark of the second quarter.

Matt Gay completed the scoring with a 29-yard field goal with 1:08 left before the break.

Huntley finished the half hitting 8-of-17 passes for 117 yards while rushing 12 times for 18 yards and a score. Moss carried eight times for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Utah will receive to open the second half.