By Cody Harris
Week #1 is in the books and the Utes are 1-0, sending “he who must not be named” back to Ann Arbor with a loss. Overall the Utes looked pretty solid; there will always be room for improvement and the Utes will address that. Feeling very confident the Utes are preparing for their next challenge. Next up for the Utes are the in-state rival Utah State Aggies who roll into Salt Lake this Friday at 7:00 pm.
The Aggies barely survived what would have been a devastating upset to Southern Utah last week, winning without scoring an offensive touchdown, 12-9. While many would say this is an indication that the Utes will blow out the Aggies, the Utes will be much more cautious as we really don’t know much from that performance, because anyone that has watched Utah State the last few years knows Mike Wells, Chuckie Keeton and this team are capable of so much more.
The strength of the Aggies is the defense led by the linebacking core of #41 Nick Vigil and #9 Kyler Fackrell, both of whom will be playing on Sunday someday soon. This early in the season team stats will be skewed, however it’s worth noting that currently the Aggies are ranked #7 in the overall defensive rating. This isn’t by total chance either, this defense is good, very good. In fact they are solid up front, look for big #51 NG David Moala to give the Utes offensive line all they can handle, at 6’2 310 lbs he is very quick for his size, and will be doing his best to free up blockers for Fackrell and Vigil. Fackrell came away with 2 sacks last week, while Vigil led the team with 13 tackles.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Aggies, we might see new OC Josh Heupel (former QB and OC at Oklahoma) and Chuckie Keeton click this week to put on a show against the Utes. Last week the offense was out of sync, Chuckie may have had arguably the worst performance of his career going 16 of 33 for just 110 yds and a interception. The real question here is if this will be indicative of the season to come for #16 or was it a fluke? History would show this was a fluke game for Keeton who will look to make a statement against the Utes.
Last week against a stout Michigan defense, the Utes (especially in the 2nd half) looked surprisingly dynamic at times. Travis Wilson showed some of his old moxy trying to shoot the ball into tight spaces reminiscent of his 2013 sophomore season. It was a nice change from the uptight, timid throwing game we saw last year for Wilson. Perhaps Travis has found that difficult balance between conservative/smart and gun-slinger? If so, Travis (and therefore the Utes) could have a very surprisingly successful season. Now the play calling itself was very much on the conservative side with a lot of quick short passes, and we may see that again this week however I do think the Utes will have the edge if they choose to throw deep on Friday especially since Jabril Peppers will no longer be on the field. With the Aggies strength being at Linebacker, the Utes will have to throw it in order to loosen the run game for Booker. Look for a big game from Britain Covey.
With the exceptions of a few blown coverage’s by the DB’s of the Utes, and failing entirely to cover the tight end position, the Utes defense did exactly what they were asked to last week; stop the run and control the possession game. The Utes were content to not blitz last week as they showed they could control the line of scrimmage with just their defensive lineman. This week I think we see the Utes turn up the pressure on Keeton in order to keep him and the offense out of sync and force some turnovers. The DB’s for the Utes will have to be a little bit more disciplined this week because if given time, Keeton will not overthrow his receivers.
Special teams for both of these squads will absolutely play a factor in this game as arguably the strength for the Utes coming into the season; with the exception of Hackett, did not show up last week. Missed field goals by Phillips, and just 14 return yards will not get it done in most weeks. The Aggies special teams on the other hand were (literally) the only thing that went well and in fact won the game for them. A blocked PAT which was then run back for a 2 pt score, a field goal, and an 88 yard punt return accounted for all of the points scored by Utah State. Coach Whittingham will make corrections, and Andy Phillips will likely bounce back from an uncharacteristically bad game.
The Utes have the advantage on Defense, Offense, coaching and overall talent, they should in theory handle the Aggies with ease, but something about this one just tells me it will be a lot closer than most think and the Utes would be dumb to look past this team because if given the opportunity the Aggies will make the Utes pay.