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Utah Opponent Preview: Weber State’s Defense

NCAA Football: Weber State at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Fans will be returning to the newly expanded Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time in a game setting since the 2019 season, kicking off a promising season against in-state FCS powerhouse Weber State.

Former Ute, Jay Hill, is at the helm entering his eighth season and joined by a familiar face in Gary Andersen. Andersen was the coach who recruited him to the University of Utah in the ‘90s. He assists co-defensive coordinators Grant Duff and Joe Dale as a volunteer defensive adviser.

After playing a delayed season starting in the Spring of 2021 with the rest of the FCS field, Weber State is poised for a big season, ranking 6th in both the AFCA Coaches Poll and the Stats Perform FCS poll projected to finish first in the Big Sky. Those expectations aren’t without a warrant. Hill’s consistent success at Weber State has caught the attention of the FCS world, and rumors of Hill leaving for an FBS job pop up at the end of every season. Couple that success with 21 total returning starters coming back for the Fall season, and the Wildcats could prove to be a potent force to be reckoned with.

Senior linebacker Conner Mortensen (6’0”, 210 lbs) is among those returning starters and highlights an explosive defense that ranked amongst the nation’s best during the Spring season. The AP All-American led the Big Sky with 11.5 tackles for loss in just six games, accounting for more than half of his 22.5 TFL’s through 44 games.

Fellow AP All-American Preston Smith could be a nuisance for Utah’s offense. The 5’11”, 200 lb senior safety collected an impressive three interceptions in just five games last season (another best in the Big Sky), along with 21 total tackles. This comes after a monster 2019 campaign where he accounted for 91 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss. Versatile and speedy, expect Smith to make a play or two that embarrasses Utah’s new-look offense as they take the field for the first time this season.

Despite Weber State’s pedigree, Utah’s offense should be able to handle the Wildcat’s defense in what looks to be a fun tune-up before taking on BYU in week two.