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Offense is in Dan’s hands

Florida-bound coach will direct Utes from sideline — not box

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Utah assistant Dan Mullen, who will direct the Utes' offense Saturday, participates in practice Monday.

Utah assistant Dan Mullen, who will direct the Utes’ offense Saturday, participates in practice Monday.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Regardless of what happens in Saturday's Fiesta Bowl, Dan Mullen's one-game stint as Utah's offensive coordinator will come to an end.

The quarterbacks coach, who is headed to Florida with Urban Meyer next season, has added many of Mike Sanford's duties to his list of things to do in the Jan. 1 game against Pittsburgh. Sanford left the Utes shortly after the season-ending 52-21 win over BYU to become the new head coach at UNLV.

Considering his work with quarterback Alex Smith, Mullen was an obvious choice to oversee offensive preparations in Utah's bid to go 12-0.

Starting center Jesse Boone predicts the team won't miss a beat.

He may be right.

"The play calling will go very similar to what we've done all year. We script a lot of our series, so between series we have open communication between everybody and a suggestion of a group of plays listed that we want to run for that series," said Mullen. "The key to the game is when you call plays. It's really not what you call. We have an idea of what we're going to call throughout the game. The key is calling the right plays at the right time."

Though Mullen inherited Sanford's job, he won't replace the former coordinator in the coaching box. Mullen, who works closely with quarterback Alex Smith, has opted to run the offense from his usual spot on the sidelines.

"It will be a little bit different. Just your focus during the game changes a little bit," said Mullen. "You just have to stay focused when you're down on the field. You have all the excitement of everything going on around you."

Fifth-ranked Utah's offense, which will be directed by new coordinator Andy Ludwig next season, is averaging a whopping 46.3 points per game. Mullen gives much of the credit to Smith.

"For us, he makes the whole thing go. Our quarterback has to make a read on every single play — whether it's in the run game and he's making an option read off of somebody or in the pass game making his pass reads," said Mullen. "We're lucky to have Alex, who can do everything and make all those decisions on every play."

Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist, said Utah's offense is tough to defend.

"We give a ton of different looks. It's pretty amazing when you can run the option and the spread from the same formation. It's pretty unique in itself. I think we create problems for defenses," said Smith. "The option alone creates problems; then you get in man coverage and have to play assignment football. When you can do that and run the spread as well and throw the ball around the field, you're going to create some problems."

Pittsburgh defensive back Tyrone Gilliard said Smith is a great player but doesn't believe Utah's offense is unstoppable.

"We just have to stay disciplined in our assignments and our keys," said Gilliard. "So it shouldn't be too difficult."

Linebacker H.B. Blades is even more confident about the Panthers' chances of slowing down the Utes.

"Anything can be stopped," he said. "They said the Titanic couldn't be stopped, but it stopped. We have to go out and do all the things we practiced this month."

The Utes, however, plan to continue sailing.

"Our goal is to spread the field out as wide as possible and make the defense defend the entire field," said Mullen. "We want an attack that they have to not only be responsible for the entire field but defend all 11 players on the field."

It's a scheme that has served Utah well. The Utes have scored 45 or more points in six straight games.

"Too many teams try and take away players or try to take away our running game, and we tear them apart passing. Or they try to take away the pass, and we run the ball up the middle," said Boone. "We have too many individual players that you can't stop all of them."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com