Pac-12: Conroy Black

Utah spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; punter/kicker: 2

Top returners
QB Jordan Wynn, DT Star Lotulelei, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, S Brian Blechen, OL Sam Brenner.

Key losses
OL Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby; LB Chaz Walker, OL John Cullen.

2011 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: John White* (1,519 yards)
Passing: Jon Hays* (1,459 yards)
Receiving: DeVonte Christopher* (663 yards)
Tackles: Chaz Walker (118)
Sacks: Derrick Shelby, Trevor Reilly* (5)
Interceptions: Conroy Black (4)

Spring answers
1. High hopes: Quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy -- hopefully for more than just a few weeks at a time. After a fantastic true freshman year, Wynn's career has been hijacked by multiple injuries that have limited his time. He's put on more weight (up to about 210) and if he stays healthy, should have great success with Brian Johnson running the offense.

2. LB answers: The Utes had some holes to fill at the linebacker spot with the departures of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, leaving Trevor Reilly as the only returning starter. But V.J. Fehoko appears to have won the job at the middle linebacker spot and either Jacoby Hale or LT Filiaga will fill the rover spot.

3. RB depth: John White had more carries than any other running back in the conference last season. That's a lot of wear and tear, so developing some guys behind him was crucial. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York established themselves as the guys behind White. Both are bigger -- Langi is 228 and York is 225 -- so they'll be a nice change of pace from the speedier White.

Fall questions
1. Who has Wynn's back? Developing a guy behind Wynn -- giving his history of injury -- is pretty crucial. It looks like Jon Hays would probably be the guy if Wynn goes down again -- which makes sense -- because the Utes probably don't want to burn a redshirt year on Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen. But on his latest depth chart, head coach Kyle Whittingham left an "OR" between Hays and Wilson, leaving the door open that maybe he has a little more faith in Wilson.

2. Who has Wynn's backside? The Utes have to fill two substantial holes left by departed tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom. As of now, Percy Taumoelau is penciled in at left tackle and Daniel Nielson is slotted for the right tackle. But Whittingham has said those aren't set in stone. Cullen and Bergstrom were two of the best in the conference. No easy job stepping in for those guys.

3. DL depth: Up front, Utah is probably as good as anyone in the conference with Lotulelei, Joe and Dave Kruger and Nate Fakahafua. But behind them, there are questions. Converted running back Thretton Palamo, Hunter Dimick and junior-college transfer Niasi Leota figure to be in the mix. But like the offensive-line spots, nothing is written in ink. Junior Salt and Tenny Palepoi could also see time in the rotation.

Utah starts spring with new offense

March, 20, 2012
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Utah begins spring practices Tuesday, and most of the focus will be on the offense, with new 25-year-old coordinator Brian Johnson installing his scheme and quarterback Jordan Wynn returning from injury.

Some are theorizing Johnson will bring back many spread elements after a year with Norm Chow's pro-style scheme, so it will be a bit of a challenge for the media to figure out specific and identifiable tweaks that represent Johnson's renovation.

Don't expect anything radical, particularly with Wynn being asked to run the football.

Here are the big issues to be addressed before the spring game on April 21.
  • Who replaces Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen at the offensive tackle spots? Bergstrom was first-team All-Pac-12, and Cullen was second-team. Further, Wynn and his shoulders need to be protected, so this is a top priority. The pre-spring depth chart has Percy Taumoelau No. 1 at left tackle and Daniel Nielson at right tackle, but an influx of four JC transfers this fall could lead to some shuffling on the offensive line, even with three interior starters returning.
  • The defense should be potent, but it has some key guys to replace: End Derrick Shelby, cornerback Conroy Black, and linebackers Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez need to be replaced. Shelby led the team in tackles for a loss, and tied for the lead in sacks. Black led the Utes in interceptions, and Walker and Martinez were the top two tacklers in 2011, so these are significant holes. The pre-spring depth chart has Joe Kruger moving from right end to Shelby's left end spot, with Nate Fakahafua stepping in on the right side. Dave Fagergren and Victor Spikes are competing for Martinez' rover linebacker spot, while V.J. Fehoko steps in at Walker's spot at middle linebacker.
  • Who will back up Wynn? Wynn, if healthy, is the Utes' best option at quarterback, but health has been his main issue, and that makes the backup job even more important. Based on the spring depth chart, which doesn't list Jon Hays, who started nine games last season after Wynn got hurt, it will fall to one of the two true freshmen on hand this spring: Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen.

A couple links: Four keys for Utah this spring. And here's a look at the offense.

Pac-12's most improved players in 2011

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
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The coaches announced their All-Pac-12 team here, and the Pac-12 blog followed shortly thereafter here.

We even created an All-Underrated Team.

Now we recognize our Most Improved Players on both offense and defense.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireAll-Pac-12 junior defensive end Dion Jordan collected 7.5 sacks in 2011.
Defense (tie): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

Jordan went from single-game starter in 2010 to first-team All-Pac-12 as a junior in 2011. Jordan had 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2010, when he showed promise after converting from tight end. He lived up to that promise in 2011 with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Jordan figures to be a leading candidate for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, particularly if he gets his skinny butt into the weight room and eats a lot of steak.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Lotulelei started the final three games of the 2010 season and finished with 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. In 2011, he won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman, as voted on by his peers -- the guys who had to block the 325-pounder. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was the lineman of the game in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. He finished with 44 tackles, including nine for loss, but his main job was occupying two blockers so linebackers could make tackles. The Utes ranked third in the Pac-12 -- and 20th in the nation -- in run defense.

Honorable mention: Conroy Black, CB, Utah; Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford; Trevor Guyton, DE, California; D.J. Holt, LB, California; Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon; C.J. Mizell, LB, Washington State; Nick Perry, DE, USC; Eddie Pleasant, S, Oregon; Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State; Nickell Robey, CB, USC; Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona

Offense: Gerell Robinson, WR, Arizona State

Robinson went from bust to bust-out in 2011. In 2010, the once-touted recruit caught just 29 passes for 387 yards. He was best known for inconsistent hands. And at the start of 2011, he also caught an early case -- or two -- of the dropsies. But Robinson caught fire just as the rest of the Sun Devils started to tank, hauling in more than 100 receiving yards in six of the final eight games, including 13 receptions for 241 yards in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State. He finished with 77 receptions for 1,397 yards and seven touchdowns. His 107.5 yards receiving per game ranked ninth in the nation, and his 18.1 yards per catch was tied for first in the Pac-12. His late-season surge earned him a spot in the Senior Bowl.

Honorable mention: Mark Asper, OG, Oregon; Matt Barkley, QB, USC; Matt Kalil, OT, USC; Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State; Isi Sofele, RB, California; Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State; Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State; Robert Woods, WR, USC

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
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Taking stock of the 11th week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Oregon took care of business at Stanford with a 53-30 win and has re-emerged as a national title contender. It defeated a top-five team on the road for the first time in school history and won its 19th consecutive conference game.

[+] EnlargeOregon
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWith a big win against Stanford, the Oregon Ducks are in the running for the national title.
Best game: The only Pac-12 game that was undecided in the fourth quarter was Washington State's 37-27 upset win over Arizona State. The Sun Devils twice drove inside the Cougars 10-yard line in the fourth quarter and ended up with no points on either possession, turning the ball over on downs once and missing a chip shot field goal the second time.

Biggest play: On a fourth and 7 from the Stanford 41-yard line, with Oregon up 15-9 in the second quarter, Ducks QB Darron Thomas dumped a pass to true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who scooted through the flailing Cardinal secondary 41 yards for a touchdown. That was the moment when you saw how Oregon's speed advantage was going to tax -- big time -- the Cardinal defense.

Offensive standout (s): Washington State's redshirt freshman QB Connor Halliday came off the bench and threw for 494 yards and four TDs in the win over Arizona State. He completed 27 of 36 passes with no interceptions. His yardage total was the best in conference history for a freshman and just 37 yards shy of Alex Brink's school record of 531 yards set against Oregon State in 2005.

Colorado RB Rodney Stewart, playing with a sprained ankle, rushed 24 times for 181 yards and three touchdowns, caught two passes for 23 yards, and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to QB Tyler Hansen in the Buffs 48-29 win over Arizona, the program's first Pac-12 victory.

Defensive standout (s): USC DE Nick Perry had 2.5 sacks in the 40-17 win over Washington, and Utah CB Conroy Black grabbed two interceptions in the 31-6 win over UCLA -- the second of which he returned 67 yards for a touchdown.

Special teams standout (s): Arizona State's Jamal Miles returned the opening kickoff at Washington State 95 yards for a touchdown, while USC's Marqise Lee returned a kickoff 88 yards for a TD against Washington.

Smiley face: Oregon's effort at Stanford was brilliant in just about every way: Outstanding plans on both sides of the ball executed about as well as plans can be executed.

Frowny face: Does anyone want to win the South Division? UCLA gift wrapped a huge opportunity for Arizona State to re-take control, but the Sun Devils flopped in the chill of Pullman. And now Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson's job might be in jeopardy.

Thought of the week: The North should secede from the Pac-12 union. At least this year. South teams have been dreadful, other than USC, which isn't eligible to win the title due to NCAA sanctions. Arizona State and UCLA, the two frontrunners, are a combined 2-8 on the road this year. Yeesh.

Questions for the week: What might a USC upset at Oregon mean? For one, it wouldn't upset the Pac-12 apple cart, other than eliminating the Ducks from the national championship hunt. Oregon would still go to the Rose Bowl if it won out -- Civil War with Oregon State and Pac-12 championship game -- and Stanford would still be favored for an at-large berth in the Fiesta Bowl. But it would give Trojans coach Lane Kiffin a landmark win and Trojans fans plenty to cackle about. And it certainly would provide the program momentum as it heads forward with scholarship reductions.

Final: Utah 31, UCLA 6

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
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UCLA is no longer in control of its Pac-12 South Division fate. And Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel's fate again is in question.

The Bruins got pushed around 31-6 at Utah. The Utes didn't need to pass to win. UCLA did, and it did so badly.

John White rushed 33 times for 167 yards with two touchdowns, while UCLA only rushed for 149 yards total. Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince threw two interceptions -- one of which was returned by Conroy Black for a touchdown that pretty much ended the intrigue in the fourth quarter.

Utah QB Jon Hays was just 5-of-13 for 67 yards with a TD, but he didn't make any major mistakes.

Utah won its third consecutive Pac-12 game -- after an 0-4 start -- and improved to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in conference play. The Utes are bowl-eligible.

UCLA fell to 5-5 and 4-3. If Arizona State beats Washington State tonight, the Sun Devils will then control their fate in the South Division.
On Friday, we looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver troikas -- so it also makes sense to also look at their defensive counterparts, the best threesomes from each of the three levels of defense: defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

Here's the tally from last season, if you are interested.

1. Arizona State

DE Junior Onyeali, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden

The Skinny: No question on No. 1 here. Onyeali was the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Burfict is the nation's best inside linebacker. Bolden was unanimous first-team All-Pac-10.

2. Stanford

DE Matt Masifilo, LB Shayne Skov, SS Delano Howell

The Skinny: Masifilo, the lone returning starter on the Cardinal defensive line, was honorable mention All-Pac-10, as was Skov, who was playing as well as any linebacker in the conference over the final third of the season. Howell was second-team All-Pac-10.

3. California

DE Trevor Guyton, LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse

The Skinny: Guyton had 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks despite being a part-time starter. Kendricks was second-team All-Pac-10. Cattouse earned honorable mention.

4. Oregon

DE Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, CB Cliff Harris

The Skinny: Two solid returning starters and a second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback who figures to be a preseason All-American after earning second-team honors from the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2010.

5. Washington:

DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison, FS Nate Fellner

The Skinny: Ta'amu earned honorable mention All-Conference honors and seemed to find himself over the latter half of the season. Dennison had 93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Fellner tied for second in the conference with five interceptions.

6. Arizona

DT Justin Washington, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade

The Skinny: Washington's numbers fell off when he got banged up, but he still had 11.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a redshirt freshman. Vassallo was honorable mention All-Conference. Wade had an off year last fall, but was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2009.

7. USC

DE Armond Armstead, LB Chris Galippo, FS T.J. McDonald

The Skinny: This actually could be one of the best threesomes in the conference, but Armstead and Galippo have injury issues and only put up middling numbers last fall. McDonald was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010.

8. Washington State

DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, SS Deone Bucannon

The Skinny: Long was honorable mention All-Conference, Bucannon, who started as a true freshman, and Hoffman-Ellis were the Cougars' top two tackles in 2010.

9. UCLA

DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, SS Tony Dye

The Skinny: A solid threesome that is down here more because it gets an "incomplete." Jones missed all of last season with a foot injury, but, if healthy, he's an All-Conference sort. Larimore was solid in seven games before suffering a shoulder injury. Dye led the Bruins in tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10.

10. Colorado

NG Will Pericak, LB Jon Major, FS Ray Polk

The Skinny: Pericak earned honorable mention All-Big 12. Major was the Buffaloes leading tackler before he blew out his knee in Game 7 (a knee injury also killed the junior's true freshman season). Polk was the second-leading tackler.

11. Utah

DE Derrick Shelby, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

The Skinny: Honestly don't know how to rank the Utes here. Shelby and Walker are returning starters -- Walker earned second-team All-Mountain West honors. Black was the top backup cornerback last season. But Star Lotulelei might be the Utes' best defensive lineman, and Brian Blechen has moved from strong safety, where he was very good, to linebacker. How highly do the Utes think of him? They list him as an All-American candidate.

12. Oregon State

DE Dominic Glover, LB Rueben Robinson, S Lance Mitchell

The Skinny: Three returning starters, but none of them even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Mitchell was the Beavers' third-leading tackler, Glover had 2.5 sacks, and Robinson split time with Tony Wilson.

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