Utah football: A challenging season for Norm Chow
Utah football • He helps steer team toward strong finish despite setbacks.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been around long enough to always expect the unexpected. Still, all the obstacles and injuries the Utes' offense faced in 2011 made Chow's first season with the Utes one of his most challenging of his career.

So how did it turn out? How about a grade of sufficient. Brought in to design an offense that relied on a ground game but also play to quarterback Jordan Wynn's strengths, Chow found himself tweaking, scrapping and redesigning one piece of offense after another.

Now, as the Utes head into their Sun Bowl game against Georgia Tech, the offense resembles nothing of what Chow had in mind when he was hired in January. Still, what he came up with was good enough to help the Utes win four of their last five games to turn a dismal start into a strong finish.

"What I learned the most is we have kids who hung in there," Chow said. "What happened, we didn't have that in mind, but it is the role of the coaches to make something out of it, and our guys did a good job. If we'd won that last game, everyone would have been pleased. What happened there I have no idea."

Statistically, the Utes' offense was nothing to be excited about with Utah ranking last in the Pac-12 in passing offense (171.58) and total offense (308.67) and ninth in scoring (24.58).

Overall, Utah's offense wasn't much better than UCLA's under Chow's guidance, with the Bruins averaging only 20 points in three seasons with Chow. Such a low scoring output resulted in criticism of Chow's offense. Funny, though, how perspectives change.

At Utah, with a backup quarterback who had never played Division I football and season-ending injuries to other critical players, Chow's ability to coax enough out of the offense to help the Utes win might be considered one of his better coaching performances.

Of course, what worked for the Utes could work against him, too, as perhaps the season's turn of events and the adjustments might just help Chow land the head coaching job at Hawaii.

Both Chow and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake have applied for the job, although Chow wouldn't discuss the situation.

"We're getting ready for Georgia Tech," he said.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he will wait until after the bowl game to evaluate the offense but acknowledged the Utes did what they had to do to be successful.

"We adapted to the circumstances," he said. "It was challenging, but everybody goes through challenges. When one goes down, someone else has to step up, that was not unique to us."

Certainly, all teams have injuries that change the way game plans are formed. However, what was unique in Chow's case is the Utes were moving up to a BCS league and had little depth with which to work. That lack of depth was his greatest fear, and it played out with the Utes losing eight players to season-ending injuries.

The loss of Wynn and tight end Dallin Rogers all but crippled the offense.

With the passing game shut down, the Utes found a star in running back John White, who needs 103 yards in the bowl game to match the school record of 1,507 yards set by Carl Monroe in 1982. Quarterback Jon Hays threw just enough to keep defenses a little honest.

"It was awfully challenging," Chow said. "Every week you sit there and think, 'What am I going to do?' I wish we could have thrown the ball better and more. We threw it like 13 times a game so we were very one-dimensional so everyone knew we were going to run, but what can you do?"

Feeling as if he survived this season as well as he could have, Chow said his priority for 2012 will be finding depth for the offensive line. He and offensive line coach Tim Davis spent several days in California recruiting junior college linemen to help fill the void that will be created when John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom depart.

At least now he has some idea what kind of team he has.

"They have fight, and they are resilient," he said.

lwodraska@sltrib.com —

Utah offensive rankings

Yrd Conf Nat

Rushing 137 8 82

Passing 172 12 99

Passing Eff. 126 10 70

Total 309 12 110

Scoring 24.58 9 78 —

Chow's résumé

2008-10 • UCLA offensive coordinator

2005-07 • Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator

2001-04 • USC offensive coordinator

2000 • North Carolina State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

1990-99 • BYU assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

1982-89 • BYU co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach

1975-81 • BYU receivers coach/recruiting coordinator

1973-74 • BYU graduate assistant —

Sun Bowl

P Utah vs. Georgia Tech

Saturday, Dec. 31, noon

TV • ESPN