Utah hopes to sustain trend of domination

By Bryan Chouinard, Asst. Sports Editor

Since former Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn made his infamous guarantee to beat the Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium back in 2007, this Mountain West Conference series has not been a series at all. In fact, it hasn’t even been close. After guaranteeing victory, the Cowboys didn’t just lose8212;they got pummeled by the Utes, 50-0.

Last year, in Laramie, the Utes continued their domination of the Cowboys by routing Wyoming in their own house, 40-7.

But Glenn was fired by Wyoming after the 2008 season. Now it’s former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s team, and the future looks bright for the Cowboys.

“Dave Christensen is a longtime associate of mine,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s doing a nice job up there and we’re going to need to be ready to play.”

Whittingham and Christensen met when the two worked together on the Idaho State coaching staff from 1990 to 1991. Much has changed since the coaches’ humble beginnings on the Bengal coaching staff in the early ’90s. Whittingham is coming off a season that saw him named the 2008 college coach of the year, while Christensen is in his first year of a rebuilding process that seems to be heading in the right direction.

“I know they are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder, but there will be no mental letdown,” said Utah corner Brandon Burton. “We go into every game the same way, so we’re not taking Wyoming lightly. We’re going to come ready to play.”

Burton and fellow cornerback R.J. Stanford will see much more action this weekend from the Wyoming spread offense than they did a week ago against the run-heavy offense of Air Force Academy.

“They like to air the ball out,” Burton said. “They run that spread offense, so we’re expecting a lot of passing.”

Behind the pass is true freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who has shined in his first four starts, going 3-1 as a starter and guiding back-to-back come-from-behind wins in his first two starts, which earned the freshman MWC Offensive Player of the Week honors two weeks in a row.

Attempting to disrupt Carta-Samuels up front will be a Utah front line that has been decimated by injuries this season. But, thanks to the likes of redshirt freshman Dave Kruger, the defensive front hasn’t skipped a beat.

“The emergence of our up-and-coming defensive tackles and defensive ends really have done a nice job this season,” Whittingham said. “We’re seeing a lot of development of guys like David Kruger, Sealver Siliga and Nai Fotu through the first seven weeks.”

Kruger made his first career start last week against Air Force and nearly doubled his season tackle total by recording 13 stops against the Falcons. He impressed coaches so much last weekend that he is listed as a co-starter this week at the nose tackle position.

“David is very active,” Whittingham said. “He moves very well and he runs very well. He still needs to add a few pounds, but he’ll be there next year. For young guys to play in the trenches, it’s usually tougher deal than to play at the skill positions, at least early on, and I think he is doing very well.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Utes will look to get back in rhythm after a stagnant offensive performance against Air Force. The Utah offense has struggled to rack up yardage in recent weeks, culminating in a 267-yard performance against the Falcons.

“You want to learn lessons and have these things occur with victories,” Whittingham said. “Then address your issues after (the game). We’re certainly aware of everything we need to work on. (The offense) is a concern but we just need to keep finding ways to win.”

Some have even gone so far as to question the play calls of first-year offensive coordinator Dave Schramm. The Utes tallied more than 500 yards of offense against Utah State in the first week of the season, but since then, the Utes have only broken the 400-yard barrier once.

“Coach Schramm is a first-year coordinator and I think he’s doing a solid job,” Whittingham said. “We’re third in the league in offense, but you’re always looking to do better and be at the top. But relative to some circumstances, like breaking in a new quarterback, I think we’re doing some good things.”

The Utes will look to silence critics Saturday when they host the Cowboys at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the second-annual Blackout game at 6 p.m.

Fans are reminded to drive carefully to the game Saturday as trick-or-treaters will be out for Halloween in the surrounding neighborhoods.

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Brandon Burton is expecting to see a lot of passing from the Wyoming spread offense this week.