The longest offseason in Utah football history is finally coming to a close. Fans have anxiously waited for this day to come since Utah's unbelievable 31-17 victory of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. The #18 Utah Utes will open the 2009 football season against in-state rival the Utah State Aggies.
Utah State finished last season with a 3-9 record and caused a total reformation of the coaching staff. This game offers so many intriguing story lines the first with Utah State head coach Gary Anderson -- former Utah defensive coordinator-- is coaching his first game for the Aggies against his mentor Kyle Whittingham. Anderson was hired by the Aggies following Utah's undefeated regular season and has made many changes both offensively and defensively. Most obvious is the birth of the spread offense at Utah State. The odds however are against the Aggies however; Utah State is coming into Salt Lake City as a 21 point dog.
The biggest story line for the Utes would have to be who will be their starting quarterback? It will be between true freshman Jordan Wynn and junior college transfer Terrence Cain are both looking to fill the massive shoes that former quarterback Brian Johnson left. After the teams first scrimmage head coach Kyle Whittingham set the depth chart with Wynn as the starter closely followed by Cain.
Reports coming out of practice indicate that Terrence Cain may be the team's starter, because he has been taking more snaps then the freshman Wynn. Whittingham knows who the starter is as does the player, but is keeping it under wraps and making everyone wait until the offense takes the field Thursday. Not sure if this is any indicator but the Ute depth chart on Rivals has Terrance Cain as the number one quarterback.
The receivng corp for Utah is a concern as well with the top three graduated off the team. The receivers should be nearly as talented and deep as last years team. The starting four in the Utah spread will be Aiona Key, Jereme Brookes, David Reed, and John Peel. Then the next few are right on the cusp with convereted quarterback to wide receiver DeVonte Christopher and Shaky Smithson.
The strengths of the Utah offense will be their no-huddle offense which was used to perfection in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. The receiver depth will come in handy with quick subs to keep those players fresh. However, the best friend of the new quarterback is the stacked offensive line lead by captain Zane Beadles and bowling ball Matt Asiata. Look for the Utes to run the ball early and often to wear down the undersized Aggie defense.
The first quarter of this game may be boring and slow with the running game being featured, but coach Whittingham is a great coach and has his reason, so fans just relax and enjoy the setup for the big second half of this game.
Their strength this year should once again be the Utah defense which returns seven starters. Led by All American candidate linebacker Stevenson Sylvester the defense is expected to be as good if not better than last season, even with the loses of NFL draft picks Sean Smith and Paul Kruger. The defense will be missing all-conferece defensive end Koa Misi do to a back injury he suffered in camp, not a huge deal in this game.
The concern for Utah is the cornerbacks, because Utah runs a tight man coverage on the edges and Whitt expects them to be able to cover one on one. The new corners are speedster R.J. Stanford and Brandon Burton, and their is a concern with the two mainly because of who they are replacing. They are replacing two NFL players in Sean Smith and Brice McCain, both who were the perfect fit for the type of corner defense Utah ran. Stanford and Burton will not be alone because safety Robert Johnson is one of the best in the league and will come up with big plays if something comes across the middle on a post pattern. The speed is there at the corner spot which can help make if they get beat, but the main thing for the two is to bump at the line and stick their man.
Utah State is led by a very athletic quarterback in Diondre Borel who is expected to play very well in Anderson's spread offense. Never a good sign is when your teams quarterback leads the team in rushing as well as passing, which was the case with Aggie Dionder Borel. Howver some good news is that the leading rusher from the running backs is back for 2009 in Robert Turbin and he will be asked to carry more of a load in the running game. Last year he averaged a solid 4.7 yards per carry, but with Utah State down in most games they need to take to the air attack which took away from using the ground attack.
Utah State will also be featuring a new defense scheme which is very similar to Utah's which focuses on speed. Anderson switched many players' positions from offense to defense in the offseason to gain more defensive speed, again something similar to what he did at Utah. This could be interesting because Anderson was behind the schemes at Utah which were highly successful in his years there. Look for Andersen to use multiple looks to confuse the Utah quarterback who has never taken a snap at the FBS level.
In this rivalry nicknamed "The Battle of the Brothers" Utah leads 76-28-4 having won the last eleven meetings, and this should be number twelve. Utah is a 21 point favorite in this game and has insisted that they are taking the Aggies seriously.
The pressure is on for both the Aggies and the Utes to start the season out right. Can Gary Anderson pull off the upset? Have the Utes moved on from their #2 AP ranking and undefeated season?
Predicted Score: Utah 28 Utah State 13