NCF Nation: Jereme Brooks

A closer look at Utah-Pitt

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
2:01
PM ET
Thursday night's showdown between Pittsburgh and Utah features two teams with conference title and BCS aspirations, plus some good ol' bragging rights between the Big East and the Mountain West conferences.

For a closer look at this game, national blogger Andrea Adelson and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break down each team's strengths and weaknesses:

Utah

Strengths: The offense is a definite strength with eight starters returning, including quarterback Jordan Wynn. The sophomore started the final five games of last season and had a breakout performance in the Poinsettia Bowl against California, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdown passes. He is now completely comfortable in the spread system Utah runs, and has been given the ability to call audibles this season as well.

First-team All-Mountain West Conference running back Eddie Wide returns and so does Matt Asiata -- the two combined for -- 1,399 yards last season and 16 touchdowns. Watch for wide receiver Jereme Brooks to have a breakout season.

Weaknesses: Utah lost its top four tacklers from 2009 and has to replace seven starters on defense, including all three at linebacker and three in the secondary. The projected starter at rover, JJ Williams, is out with a foot injury, leaving Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker to start alongside converted quarterback Chad Manis. Tackle Koa Misi is also gone, along with his 4.5 sacks. But Utah does have depth on the defensive line, and leading sackmaster Sealver Siliga is back and expected to anchor the front.

Pittsburgh

Strengths: Start with the running game, as Dion Lewis returns after his phenomenal, 1,799-yard freshman season. When the Panthers aren't handing off to Lewis or terrific backup tailback Ray Graham, they're likely throwing the ball deep to Jon Baldwin, a 6-foot-5 athletic freak who is a potential NFL first-rounder next spring.

On defense, Pitt has two of the best defensive ends anywhere in seniors Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus. The Panthers don't need to blitz much because of the pressure their defensive front generates.

Weaknesses: Though strong on the edges, Pitt's offensive line is breaking in three new starters on the offensive line, including a former walk-on at center (Alex Karabin) and a thoroughly untested right guard (Greg Gaskins). That could mean less running room for Lewis and less time in the pocket for new starting quarterback Tino Sunseri. Coaches have confidence in Sunseri, but he's still playing his first important snaps in a tough road environment.

The Panthers also showed some vulnerability in pass coverage last year, and they will be lining up with two new starting cornerbacks.

Utah spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
6:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 10-3

2009 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters
Offense:
8, Defense: 4, Punter/Kicker: 2

Top returners
RB Eddie Wide, RB Matt Asiata, WR Jereme Brooks, OL Zane Taylor, OL Caleb Schlauderaff, QB Jordan Wynn, DB Brandon Burton, DT Sealver Siliga, K Joe Phillips, P Sean Sellwood

Key losses
OL Zane Beadles, DB Robert Johnson, DL Koa Misi, LB Stevenson Sylvester, WR David Reed, DB R.J. Stanford, LB Mike Wright

2009 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: *Eddie Wide (1,069 yards)
Passing: *Jordan Wynn (1,329 yards), *Terrance Cain (1,624 yards)
Receiving: David Reed (1,188 yards)
Tackles: Stevenson Sylvester (81)
Sacks: *Christian Cox (5.5)
Interceptions: Robert Johnson (6)

Spring answers

1. Reloading at receiver: The Utes lost three of their starting four receivers from last year, but Brooks returns as the leader and the Utes got quality performances out of former quarterback DeVonte Christopher and newcomer Griffin McNabb. Coach Kyle Whittingham said he’s still looking for depth at the receiver position, but he likes the direction the receivers are headed.

2. Defensive line looks deep: There was some concern about the defensive line heading into this spring, but Sealver Siliga, Dave Kruger, Neil A’asa, James Aiono, Junior Tui’one and Latu Heimuli seemed to have solidified a line that will be the strongest area of the defense this fall. The Utes also got unexpected help from defensive end Trevor Reilly, who could be a factor in the fall.

3. Replacing Robert: Brandon Burton returns at the cornerback position and Lamar Chapman, who started at the nickelback position last year, will start on the other side, replacing Robert Johnson. Conroy Black will be another asset at cornerback, as well. All three players are among the fastest on the team.

Fall questions

1. Linebackers lacking experience: The Utes lost all of their stellar linebackers from a year ago and took a big hit when Nai Fotu suffered a season-ending knee injury. J.J. Williams had a good spring and former quarterback Chad Mannis likely will be in the starting rotation. Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez got some much-needed reps with Fotu out. There’s some good depth at linebacker, but the experience is lacking.

2. Safeties are still a concern: Senior Justin Taplin-Ross was the only safety on the roster with game experience. He had a good spring and was supposed to be joined by Chris Washington, who missed the 2009 season with an injury. But Washington was injured during the spring and missed the final weeks of spring practice, leaving the safety position up for grabs.

3. Still looking for a returner: Shaky Smithson should be the top returner once he’s fully recovered from offseason surgery, but during the spring, players such as Brandon Burton and Griffin McNabb took a shot at returns. The Utes were in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West in both kick and punt returns and are hoping to improve on that number in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson


BYU running back Harvey Unga will play in Saturday’s game against Florida State while safety Scott Johnson is still questionable.

After Wyoming receiver Brandon Stewart fell far down the receiving depth chart, coach Dave Christensen decided to move him to tailback.

BYU quarterback Max Hall poses a threat to the Florida State defense.

Hawaii has spent the past couple of days preparing for UNLV’s option.

Boise State running back D.J. Harper has an increased workload and is showing he can handle it.

Ball State offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner is moving from the press box to the sidelines for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, Tulsa head coach Todd Graham is moving from the sidelines to the press box because of a hip injury. Graham also thinks it provided a strategic advantage.

Utah receiver Jereme Brooks is becoming a go-to guy in the Utes' offense.

Bowling Green will show a little Wildcat formation in its game against Marshall this weekend.

Central Florida calls for better blocking to help its running game.

Former Utah kicker Louie Sakoda has been helping Ben Vroman get over the mental hurdle of being replaced this past week by walk-on Joe Phillips.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan is winning the game, but don't read into it too much. The Wolverines generated just 35 yards in the quarter and would be trailing if not for several Utah mistakes.

Despite having an All-American kicker/punter in Louie Sakoda, Utah's special teams have been downright awful. After Michigan went three-and-out on the game's first possession, Utes return man Jereme Brooks fumbled a punt, setting up a Wolverines touchdown. Then Sakoda had a game-tying extra-point try blocked by Michigan's Terrance Taylor. A personal foul penalty on a Michigan kickoff return set up great field position and the other Wolverines' score, a 50-yard field goal by K.C. Lopata.

Wolverines starting quarterback Nick Sheridan has taken advantage of Utah's miscues, but he had an interception called back on a penalty and had another one slip through the fingers of a Utes defensive back. The good news for Michigan is both freshman running backs, Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, look explosive. Steven Threet has yet to enter the game.

As expected, Michigan's playcalling has been fairly conservative, mostly short, safe passes. Sheridan hasn't looked good on the deep passes but seems comfortable with short routes.

Utah quarterback Brian Johnson looks like a senior, consistently finding holes in the Wolverines secondary. He hit Brooks for a 55-yard gain to set up a touchdown.

SPONSORED HEADLINES