Date & Time: September 06, 2008, 6:00 MST
TV: The mtn.
Radio: Kall 700
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
All-time series: Utah leads 11-2
Last meeting: 2007 (UNLV 27, Utah 0)
It's a score that Ute players and fans won't soon forget. A score that belongs in nightmares and ugly, unrealistic preseason scenarios. But it was reality last year and a moment that nearly unraveled Utah's season and Kyle Whittingham's coaching career.
Saturday, it's revenge.
Utah enters their game against UNLV much like they did last season, on the heels of an amazing victory over a BCS team. But if there is one lesson to be learned from last year's disastrous loss, it's that the Utes can't take any game for granted, or they will lose. UNLV might have been one of the bleakest moments in recent Utah football history, but it also may prove to be the moment Kyle Whittingham, his staff and the players finally got it. Realizing football is more than just a game of skill and talent, but it's a game of emotions and heart and there was one thing clear that dark Saturday: UNLV had more heart.
This year, though, it will be different...at least it should be.
It should be because the Utes now know things do not come easy in college football. UNLV will still be less talented than Utah and UNLV will still be big underdogs and the Utes will enter this game knowing they are capable of losing. That mentality will be the heart and emotion they need to not allow another letdown. 27-0 will now become their rallying cry, much like Joe Glenn's guarantee was last year. If that's the case, I don't want to be Mike Sanford.
As for those Rebels, they enter the season 1-0, defeating Utah State 27-17 Saturday. It was not an extremely impressive victory by UNLV, who struggled at times and only reinforces the fact this is not a very good team. Mike Sanford, who very well could be in his last year as coach, does have some weapons, however. One of those will be very familiar to the Utes.
Frank Summers, who ran all over Utah for 190 yards last season, worked Utah State's line for 87 yards Saturday. He will undoubtedly be the focus of the Rebels' offense again this year, but don't expect him to dominate nearly as much, especially if Utah's line plays like it did against Michigan. The Rebels will also rely on sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton, who threw for 192 yards against the Aggies.
Defensively, the Rebels don't look too impressive. The depleted Aggie offense didn't perform exceptionally well against UNLV, but they still managed 203 yards through the air and finished the night with 314 total yards, meaning they did see some production. It just didn't manifest into many points, as they were held to only 17. That shouldn't be a problem for Utah, who likely will easily carve up their secondary and dominate on the ground.
This game doesn't scare me and maybe it should, but I've got a feeling the Utes are going to come out firing. They remember last year's defeat and I can't see them easing up just because it is UNLV. Plus, they're ranked for the first time in Whittingham's career, the fans are going to be nuts and there will be just so much emotion for this game that a loss seems improbable, if not unthinkable.
Of course, I thought the same last year. But this feels different. UCLA was a different type of win, an exhaustive win, which set up for a perfect letdown. The victory over Michigan, though, was about building confidence and that will show Saturday.
Utah wins if... They show up. Last year they didn't and they lost. There is no excuse short of the apocalypse for not winning this game.
UNLV wins... If Utah fails to show up or it's decided Saturday will be the Second Coming. I'm not trying to sound cocky, but if Utah loses, it will be because they failed once again at emotionally investing in a game that isn't big and not because UNLV is a better team. They're not.
What will happen... Wyoming Part II. The Utes come out firing, confident and fluid, rolling UNLV's defense and shutting down their offense. It probably won't be a shutout, but this game will be over at the half. Utah wins 49-17