Game Preview: Utah vs. Utah State

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This Friday night, Utah will play Utah State, its only in-state opponent this season, in the second game of the 2015 campaign.

After a win against Michigan, the Utes are more confident in their ability to pull out a win, even if they are not at their best. Head coach Kyle Whittingham thinks the little mistakes will be overshadowed if his team continues to hustle on every play. However, the Utes have plenty to work on, and so does Utah State.

Utah State opened its season against SUU and barely escaped the Thunderbirds, an FCS team, with a 12-9 win. In a game that had over 20 punts, the Aggie defense played up to its standards, but the offensive players did not show up.

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Even so, Whittingham fully expects to see a different version of the Utah State offense come game-time on Friday.

“They’re going to come in here and play us exceptionally well,” Whittingham said. “We are fully aware we will have our hands full on Friday night.”

One specific player the Utes are concerned about is the Aggies’ quarterback, Chuckie Keeton. As a fifth-year senior, he has the experience needed to make a statement in Salt Lake City, and it wasn’t long ago that Keeton was doing just that.

However, while Keeton underperformed against SUU, Whittingham does not take anything from Keeton’s performance last week. Instead, the head coach knows Keeton will want to prove to everyone that the first game was a fluke.

“Chuckie, who’s a phenomenal player, was a little bit off,” Whittingham said. “He’s moving pretty good. He’s fast, he’s got his quickness.”

On the other hand, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is not too worried about Keeton’s game plan. Instead, Wilson’s focusing on what he can bring and hopes to start where he left off last week.

“Just got to make sure our offense is being efficient,” Wilson said. “That we’re scoring points and helping out our defense.”

It isn’t just Keeton that Utah is concerned about, either, but rather the entire offense of the Aggies. Utah State can effectively run the ball on the perimeter, one of its biggest strengths, which gives the offense more options if the pass game isn’t working to its advantage. To Utah’s credit, Whittingham is satisfied with how its run-defense panned out against Michigan, but at the same time he’s aware the Aggies will do their job with more efficiency.

“They do a good job getting defenses out-flanked and mismatched,” Whittingham said.

Looking at the Aggies’ defense, a big part of why they won their first game, Whittingham predicts an even more difficult defense in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Fundamentally and technique-wise, they’re very good,” Whittingham said. “They very seldom blow coverages and blow assignments. Very disciplined, they play hard.”

Rivalry games make every single player give it their all. Last year, the two teams did not meet, but the year before the Utes won a close game 30-26 in Salt Lake City. This time around, players forecast a similar shootout, and sliding by just won’t cut it.

“Our guys look forward to it, and we better be at our best if we’re going to have a chance to win the football game,” Whittingham said.

The Utes will have their hands full when it comes to the pass-rush, which is an aspect of last week’s game Whittingham thought could have gone better. Although the Wolverines’ offensive line put up a strong front, he wants his players to do a better job of getting to the quarterback, and hopefully they can record their first sack of the season against Keeton.

Although there were plenty of takeaways from that first game against Michigan, positive and negative, most of which they can fix, they will be at a loss when it comes to replacing tight end Evan Moeai.

Moeai went down early in the first quarter with a leg injury, similar to what happened last season, and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

“Lost Evan Moeai for the season, which is disheartening, feel so bad for Evan,” Whittingham said. “He works so hard in rehab with the last injury and first game of the year gets hurt.”

The Utah defense hopes to move past this loss and will keep building onto what they have been working on. The game kicks off at 7 p.m., and this will be the last time the Utes take the field at home before mid-October.

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