Game guide: The road halfway traveled

The midpoint of the 2004 football season has passed quickly. I, however, would like to pause to take a deep breath to discuss the performance of the team to date and thank everyone for the great support so far this year.

It has been fantastic and the entire team and coaching staff is very appreciative. When an opponent comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium, they face the community and fans, the MUSS, student body, band, cheerleaders, cadets from ROTC, administration, faculty and staff and our football team.

That creates the home-field advantage, and I believe that with your continued support, a formidable home field advantage can become a part of our legacy at Rice-Eccles Stadium. When opponents hate to play in our stadium, the advantage will belong to us. The 2004 team started its journey in January when team members reported back for the Spring Semester and dedicated themselves to offseason workouts with strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis and his staff.

Every player was tested and goals were set for each by the start of spring practice. The hard work and dedication of the players was very evident as many players met or exceeded their goals when spring practice started.

Spring practice gave the hard-working coaching staff the opportunity to see the players who were competing for positions vacated by a great group of departing seniors. It also gave us a look at the leadership of this team, strengths and most importantly, the areas that needed to be addressed, depth at quarterback, offensive line, defensive front seven and cornerbacks. It was clear that young players had to step up and push themselves harder to become solid contributors on offense, defense or special teams.

Spring practice concluded with a number of unanswered questions and the challenge to find answers to allow us to compete at a very high level. Summer provided a clear indication of the team’s dedication as all of the players attended the voluntary workouts to prepare for the rigors of the training camp and the season. Many of them made the champion’s club as they made every work out session and exceeded their weight and lifting goals as we headed into training camp.

As summer ended, the ground- breaking ceremony was held and construction started on the new Spence Eccles indoor facility. That buoyed our spirits as we started training camp, and we express our thanks to Spence Eccles and Chris Hill, the athletics director, for their contributions and perseverance.

Training camp was very physical, but the team’s attitude was very good, having been led by captains Morgan Scalley, Sione Pouha, Bo Nagahi, Paris Warren and Alex Smith. We were very focused and worked hard to improve every day on all aspects of the game as we looked to open the season at home against Texas A&M, a BCS opponent, on national television. President and Mrs. Michael Young joined us at the end of training camp for a well-deserved team cookout.

The team prepared very hard for that opener, and it reflected in the final score, Utah 41, Texas A&M 21. The Aggies are currently ranked No. 16 in the nation with that loss being the only blemish on their record to date.

Next up was a road game against the Arizona Wildcats, another BCS opponent. Again, the team leaders showed the younger players how to prepare to play on the road and we prevailed against Arizona 23-6 in a difficult environment.

Game-time temperature was 100 degrees and the crowd was loud, especially at the start of the game. Utah State was next and we were explosive and dominant on both sides of the ball. A lot of young players had the opportunity to play much of the second half, including Brian Johnson, the freshman quarterback who replaced Alex Smith and got valuable playing time. The final score was 48-6. The defense displayed several goal line stands in these early games and the offense reflected both ball control and quick strike capability. The Air Force game started slowly and we were behind 14-0 in the first quarter as we tried to get into the tempo of the option offense. Our defense was up to the task and the offense came alive and we scored 35 consecutive points. The final score was Utah 49, AFA 35.

Game five was against the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque and the team was very intense. This was a business trip for the team and they were intent on playing tough, hard football in front of a sell-out crowd of 40,000 fans. They did not disappoint the Ute supporters that made the trip and won decisively 28-7 going into the bye week. We used that week to give the starters some time off while the younger players got some practice time before taking a few days off for Fall Break while the coaching staff was out recruiting.

After the bye week, we started preparation to host the University of North Carolina, our final BCS opponent. An athletic team, they led 7-0. However, both our offense and defense started to take control of the game midway through the first quarter and with a sellout crowd behind us, we won 46-16.

Again a lot of younger players got valuable game experience as we head into five consecutive MWC games starting with UNLV this Saturday at home. However, we lost offensive lineman Makai Aalona to injury and now a younger player must step up and do the job.

Again, I offer my thanks and appreciation for your support and seek your continued support. A sold-out Rice-Eccles Stadium is not lost on us, and we do not take your support for granted.

The coaching staff and team must earn your support by doing things the right way and playing hard all the time. I know that if we do that, then the entire Rice-Eccles team will be a nightmare for our opponents and we will have a definite home-field advantage.

Go Utes!