CHAPEL HILL, N.C. To get acclimated and offset jet lag, Utah got a head start on its longest football trip in 28 years.
The Utes arrived at their hotel in nearby Durham early Friday morning, just after midnight, to finalize preparations for today's game at North Carolina.
"We're excited to go into ACC territory," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We think it'll be a great experience for our players."
Until last year's 46-16 trouncing of the Tar Heels at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utes had never faced an opponent from the storied league best known for its basketball.
North Carolina football is somewhat unpredictable. A week after losing at Utah last season, the Tar Heels bounced back to upset highly touted Miami. Though they wound up making a bowl appearance in 2004, the momentum didn't completely carry over.
Before last weekend's 31-24 victory at rival North Carolina State, UNC suffered narrow setbacks to Georgia Tech (27-21) and Wisconsin (14-5).
Whittingham, thus, is quick to point out that Carolina is better than its 1-2 record indicates.
"They'll be a handful," he said.
The Tar Heels have made their mark defensively with 10 sacks over their last two games.
"You've got to get rid of the ball on time. You've got to mix it up offensively and keep them off balance," Whittingham said. "Brian Johnson has got to be a good decisionmaker."
Johnson, however, needs time to work and the offensive line knows it. Center Jesse Boone is well aware of what the Tar Heels can do in the trenches.
"They are probably the fastest, most athletic defensive line we've seen. Maybe not penetration-wise. They're not guys that will get into you and bull-rush you and push you back like some other teams," Boone said. "I think they're real quick and good with their hands. I think what they do is make offensive linemen miss with their punch, and they get around them.
"Not a lot of great scheme stuff coming at you, either," he said. "Just a lot of athletic ability."
Both Whittingham and Boone expect a pass rush in excess of what TCU presented two weeks ago. Kind of the same thing, only different, however.
"TCU wasn't really winning one-on-one matchups," Boone said. "They just came with a lot of stuff from a lot of different places. I think they got us with the scheme. But these guys are beating a lot of guys one-on-one."
Sounds like basketball, of course.
The Utes, who haven't ventured this far east since visiting Florida in 1977, had a one-hour practice at Kenan Stadium on Friday.
Despite the novelty of being on Carolina's famed Tobacco Road, this is still a business trip. They're determined to pick up the program's 200th road win and enter a season-ending stretch of six consecutive Mountain West Conference games on a high note."I think we're taking the right approach," Whittingham said.