Following their opening game win on Thursday, the Utes are now focusing all of their energy toward Friday night, when they will play Utah State at home. Utah made its fair share of mistakes against Michigan and will be working on correcting them this week.
Utah State beat Southern Utah 12-9 last week, a score that surprised the Utah coaching staff, but this does not mean much to the Utes. Travis Wilson, in addition to his teammates and coaching staff, expects the Aggies’ best effort.
“Definitely a physical defense,” Wilson said. “I know they’re probably frustrated and pissed off after their last game, so they’re definitely going to be ready this Friday.”
Head coach Kyle Whittingham agrees with Wilson and thinks they will see a completely different Utah State team. To prepare for the game, Utah will look at Utah State’s film from last week’s match against SUU, but they will also look at a handful of other games from Utah State’s previous seasons, most importantly the matchups between the two teams. The Utes want to make sure they see everything the Aggies may give them at any point in the game.
“They do a good job on offense, they’re very creative,” Whittingham said.
One big challenge they will see from the Aggies is in linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil. The offensive line will need to come prepared for anything these two playmakers bring to the field.
“Fackrell is one of the best pass rushers we’ll face all season,” Whittingham said. “Vigil is a tough, hard-nose, instinctive linebacker who plays the game the way it should be played.”
Hatfield to the rescue
In Utah’s game against Michigan, several players of the secondary had to come off the field because of cramps, something Whittingham was not too happy about. The team goes through hydration tests and all sorts of strength and conditioning tests throughout the season, so while Whittingham is trying to pinpoint the exact reason behind it, he does not think it is acceptable.
“We can’t have that,” Whittingham said. “If you get injured, that’s one thing, but to get cramps, that’s something that you got to figure out.”
Another aspect of the secondary he hopes to improve is the pass rush, considering what a staple of the defense it has been in recent years. This is something Dominique Hatfield will be able to assist with because of his proven ability.
In a press conference on Monday, Whittingham announced he has reinstated Hatfield for the remainder of the season. Hatfield was dismissed from the team in July following an incident involving aggravated robbery and misdemeanor theft. Charges have since been dropped, however.
Whittingham thinks he served enough time off of the team and is optimistic about his return to the field, but the coaching staff will make sure Hatfield can make an impact on the field before he suits up.
“He’ll play as soon as he’s ready,” Whittingham said.
Jason Fanaika is more than ready to welcome Hatfield back to the team because he will add to the solid base the defense has already established. Hatfield makes Fanaika’s job as a linebacker easier because he knows he will be doing his best job covering his receiver.
“He’s a playmaker,” Fanaika said. “He’s definitely someone that we can trust. The sooner that he can get ready to play, the better we’ll be.”
Devontae Booker fell well below everyone’s expectations running the ball against Michigan last week, and although he did have 55 yards receiving, this will not cut it for the offense.
“We expect him to be a 100-yard guy every week,” Whittingham said. “He had over 100 total yards on offense, but it’s not good enough. We expect him to do a better job and it wasn’t because of lack of touches.”
Justin Thomas was awarded Defensive Player of the Week for his interception against the Wolverines. Whittingham thinks this was the play of the game that gave control back to the Utes.
Since Thomas plays at Utah’s nickel spot, he flies under the radar more often than not, but was finally able to make himself noticed against Michigan. The junior has a bright future ahead of him, and if he continues to play the way Whittingham expects him to, he can continue this trend.