Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2019 season and beyond.
No. 19: Bryan Brown, Louisville
No. 18: Phil Longo, North Carolina
No. 17: Les Koenning, Kansas
No. 16: Andy Avalos, Oregon
No. 15: Joe Cauthen, Houston
No. 14: Bodie Reeder, North Texas
No. 13: Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss
Who: Andy Ludwig, Utah
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: Vanderbilt offensive coordinator (2015-18)
Why he’s important: The last time we saw Utah, the Utes were scoring three points in a loss to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship and 20 in a loss to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl.
No matter, the Pac-12’s media sees the Utes returning to Santa Clara and bringing the trophy home this time and some are going farther than that. Pick Six Previews — which bills itself as the most accurate predictor in the business — sees Utah not only winning the Pac-12 but reaching the dadgum College Football Playoff.
2019 Playoff Prediction
3 OHIO STATE
“Most Accurate Power 5” since 2012
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) July 23, 2019
All this naturally assumes someone’s going to fix an offense that finished 66th in yards per play and 75th in scoring. Right?
To do that, Kyle Whittingham turned back to Andy Ludwig, who’s had about as many jobs as Jay-Z has problems. The 55-year-old is on his 14th job in 32 years, including his ninth different coordinating gig — Augustana College, Cal Poly, Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, Cal, San Diego State, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and (deep breath) now Utah again. Utah is home for Ludwig, or at least the closest thing to home a coaching nomad can have: he went to high school in nearby Odgen, he began his college career at Snow College, and 2019 marks Ludgwig’s third different stint in Ute red.
Ludwig has experienced his share of success over the years — he wouldn’t keep getting jobs otherwise — including a Wisconsin offense that ranked among the top 10 nationally in back-to-back years, an undefeated season at Utah in 2008 and, most recently, a No. 21 yards per play offense at Vanderbilt. And, as anyone would guess after an FBS-best 23 straight years as an offensive coordinator, Ludwig has has endured his tough campaign as well, most recently his 2015 and ’16 Vandy offenses that finished 120th and 105th in yards per play.
Along the way, Ludwig has collected a cornucopia of plays, more than enough to fashion any style of offense based around the talent available. And despite the finish, Utah returns a plethora of talent to the roster. Starting quarterback Tyler Huntley is back after missing the Utes’ final five games to injury. Prior to that, Huntley posted a three-week stretch in which he went 53-of-69 for 741 yards with seven touchdowns against one interception — good for a 197.6 rating that would have rated third nationally if spread over the entire season.
Running back Zack Moss is also back after missing Utah’s final five games alongside Huntley; he carried 72 times for 479 yards (6.65 a pop) and four touchdowns over his final three games of 2018. Also back? Ninety-two percent of Utah’s 251 total catches from last season. The offensive line has returns solid starters and two holes that require filling.
Something Utah will hopefully lose from 2018 to ’19 is its propensity to turn the ball over. The Utes coughed up 26 turnovers last fall; only six teams turned it over more. No matter the coordinator or the scheme, improvement is bound to follow if that number is cut in half.
In short, all those writers have good reason to be high on Utah. This should work. Both sides are certainly planning on it working long-term, both the travel-weary Ludwig and Whittingham himself, who’s cycled through nine offensive coordinators in his last 11 seasons.
“I was Kyle’s first OC,” Ludwig told the Deseret News in March. “My intention is to be his last OC.”
Interesting comment from CBS Analyst Rick Neuheisel with us yesterday on @ESPN700 and #Pac12MediaDay
Neuheisel had dinner with Kyle Whittingham and Whitt told him that Andy Ludwig is his "last" Coordinator. #Utes
— Bill Riley (@espn700bill) July 25, 2019
Something that hasn’t been totally nailed down yet, at least publicly, is the scheme.
“We won’t be as wide open as what we did to beat Alabama, but more to that end of the spectrum,” Ludwig said in March. “It’s based on what we can do so the players can do what they do well. This program is built for three and four wide receiver sets.”
Ludwig’s Vanderbilt offense ran at a slightly slower pace than Utah did last season; the ‘Dores ran 65.4 plays per game in 2018, Utah averaged 69.4, though that number was 71.3 when the offense was humming with Huntley and Moss in October. And if the spring game was any indication, the offense will huddle after each play.
One thing is certain, though: Whittingham likes Ludwig personally, likes what he brings to the offense and the program, and likes the omen of his return. :Well, I think Andy has had success everywhere he’s been. I know he has. And last time around, the ’08 season, we were 13-0, last time he coordinated our offense,” Whittingham said at Pac-12 media day earlier this month. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for Andy. We’re very similar in the way we approach the game. There’s a lot of compatibility there, and he’s a meticulous, detail-oriented guy, which fits right in line with the way I played.”
It’s fair to say Whittingham and Ludwig have each been searching for what they both lost when Ludwig left for richer pastures after the 2008 season. Now it’s on Ludwig to prove that a world-traveling offensive coordinator really can go home again.