Heading into somewhat of a new era of Utah football, head coach Kyle Whittingham seems to be more confident than ever. He has seen plenty of progress from all facets of the team, and although there is no way to tell how the team will fare until that first whistle sounds on Thursday night, he is eager to get things underway.
With a new quarterback and a new running back, the team is bound to have a different look right from the start, but those aren’t the only things that have the coaching staff anxious for kick-off.
According to Whittingham, this year’s recruiting class is the best one in quite a few years, and some freshmen have even broken into that starting rotation. Terrell Burgess will be the main kickoff returner, and Julian Blackmon will be the off-returner.
“Tyrell Burgess was an outstanding return guy in high school so he’s a proven commodity back there,” Whittingham said. “And Julian Blackmon has proven to be one of the most pleasant surprises in [fall] camp the way he’s responded to the transition to Division I football.”
Other than that, the competitive nature of this team is something that sticks out in Whittingham’s mind. Several positions were not solidified until this week, so all the guys have been giving it their full effort, and they all know their number could still be called up at any point this season.
Utah gearing up for SUU
Although SUU may be an FCS school, the Utah football team isn’t treating it like so. Instead, the Utes are approaching it like any other Pac-12 team, not only because they take every opponent seriously, but because they don’t want to get upset.
“It happens every year [where a FCS team beats a BCS team], and our goal is to not be one of those teams,” Whittingham said.
Utah, however, like last year against Michigan, won’t be putting its entire offense on display, and it intends to save a few schemes and plays for later down the road.
Last season, SUU pushed Utah State when it traveled to Logan, and the game went down to the wire. So to prepare for this Thursday’s game, Utah has been watching the film from that game. However, the players and coaches are aware that most (if not all) film from last season will have no bearing on this year’s team capabilities. Instead, the Utes will be primarily focusing on what they can do during the game.
“There’s a lot of unknown in openers, and we’ve got to be ready just like every year to adjust, and things will show up in the game that we haven’t prepared for — that’s the nature of openers,” Whittingham said.
Again, Utah doesn’t take any opponent lightly, and senior captain Dominique Hatfield is going to give SUU his best shot.
“It’s just as big as Michigan to us,” Hatfield said.
Turnovers and impact plays
Last season, the Utes came away with 22 interceptions, and they had a +13 turnover ratio Although that could be hard to beat, Whittingham is expecting the same level of intensity from his defense.
Aside from a high number of interceptions, Whittingham would like to see a higher number of sacks, because anything that sends the opposing team backwards can only benefit the team.
“Impact plays, sacks and takeaways can change the complexion of a game,” Whittingham said.