Can you feel it? The slight intrusion of crisp fall air, the ever so subtle changing of colors on the surrounding foliage, and soon the spectacle and pageantry that is college football. On Thursday night, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be alive with anticipation of a change in the future of Utah football. The band, the crowd, the Cowboy Corn Dog, and, of course, the game itself will be in regular season form.
Even though the opponent in the home opener is a struggling Big Sky team, they will serve their purpose in the development and growth of this young, but talented, Utah team. So here we go with some keys to the game, and things to look for as we usher in the return of Utah football:
Key #1 - Quarterback Play:
After his 2013 season was cut short by a concussion and subsequent medical condition, Travis Wilson will need to assert himself early and be efficient and smart with the football. Look for Wilson to sit early on this night. The ideal plan would be to have Kendal Thompson seeing action starting in the third quarter, and to have Brandon Cox or Connor Manning seeing some live work as well. Idaho State returns nine starters to a defense that gave up 52 points to BYU, and 32 to Weber State a year ago. Utah should have no problem getting into a rhythm early. Coach Whittingham should be able to get a lot of live game experience for the young players on this team.
Key #2 - Always Stout Utes Defense:
If Idaho State scores more than a couple of field goals, they should consider themselves fortunate. Although, while they do return eight starters on offense, they simply do not have the horses to run against this Kalani Sitake defense. Based on what we saw when Utah played Weber State a year ago, simply getting to midfield will be a test for this Bengals offense. Like the offense, look for the 2nd and 3rd string players to get plenty of live work.
Key #3 - New Special Teams Coordinator:
With the departure of Jay Hill to Weber State, Utah's long-time special teams coordinator, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham takes over coordination duties of the third phase of the game. Will he prove to be the gambler that Hill was in recent years or the conservative, calculating Whittingham from his early head coaching years? In any event, this will be a great opportunity to work out some kinks in the punt and kick return games. Although the depth chart is set, there are still some unknowns, and Kaelin Clay should plenty of time to separate himself as a primary returner. Thursday night’s match-up will go a long way toward sorting out some of the undecided situations at these positions.
Overall this is what some would call a glorified scrimmage, however, it is live work. At the end of the day, it counts in the Win/Loss columns, and this team will be looking to make a statement.
Welcome back football. Welcome back.