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Utah's new offensive coordinator has a Big Sky background

The UND football coaching staff's efforts to scout Utah have been a challenge. The No. 8 Fighting Hawks will face the Utes at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night in Salt Lake City.

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The UND football coaching staff's efforts to scout Utah have been a challenge. The No. 8 Fighting Hawks will face the Utes at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night in Salt Lake City.

Utah had a school-record eight NFL draft picks in 2017 and seven other Utah players signed free agent deals in the NFL.

Beyond the pro turnover, Utah fired offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick last season and just recently named a surprise starting quarterback.

There is one bit of familiarity, however.

Utah's new offensive coordinator is Troy Taylor, who was the offensive coordinator at Big Sky Conference power Eastern Washington.

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The Fighting Hawks didn't play Eastern Washington last season as the teams shared the Big Sky championship.

But in 2016, the Eagles-known for a wide-open, throw-it-around offense-averaged an FCS-best 401 passing yards and ranked No. 2 in total offense (529.6 yards) and No. 3 in scoring offense (42.4 points per game).

EWU finished the 2016 season 12-2 with a 40-38 loss in the FCS semifinals to Youngstown State.

Taylor's offense will be led by quarterback Tyler Huntley, a sophomore dual-threat athlete, who was named the starter despite senior captain Troy Williams returning from a 9-4 2016 season.

"We're planning on (Huntley) being really good," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "If someone comes in as a sophomore and beats out a captain, that means the staff is really pleased with his performance, leadership and skill set."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, in his 13th season as Utes head coach, said he put the quarterback decision in Taylor's hands.

"If I disagree with any of the personnel decisions that are made, I certainly can override them but 99 times out of 100, me and the assistant coaches are on the same page," Whittingham said. "Tyler has a lot of up sides. He is very athletic. It was an intense competition and there was very little separation. With Tyler's mobility and with the up side that we think he has, that is the direction we went."

Defensively, Utah is preparing for a UND team that features a power-running style, a rarity in the Pac 12.

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"It is the exception in this day and age of football to have a traditional two-back, 21 personnel football team," Whittingham said. "You have to structure that with your scout teams, which we have been doing for two weeks now, because that is a departure from the spread attacks that we see most weeks.

"So, the scout team has been doing a pretty good job at preparing some looks for our defense. We have a 4-3 package that I said a couple of years ago we played less 4-3 than we did nickel, but we do have a package that we have held onto for a number of years that has been good to us, and that will be prevalent Thursday night."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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