Utah Utes football: Huskies visit in historic clash on the hill
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — History will be made at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Saturday's homecoming tilt against the Washington Huskies will be Utah's first Pac-12 home game. Conference commissioner Larry Scott will be on hand and there will be plenty of pomp and circumstance, including fireworks, flags and giveaways to mark the occasion.
Even so, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn't about to call it the biggest home game in program history.
"No. Nope. It's not," he said. "It counts as one just like every other one. No drama."
If nothing else, however, it'll be a historic day up on the hill.
And that, noted wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, makes it a big deal for the alumni and fans.
"It's a big game for us. It's a big game for the state," said defensive end Joe Kruger. "A lot of people are going to be watching."
When the Utes and Huskies take the field they'll do so before one of the largest crowds in stadium history. Even standing-room only tickets are sold out.
"It's huge," said Utah quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. "I think there's a lot of excitement around the community for it."
Adding to the atmosphere, he added, is a great opponent in Washington. A win over the Huskies is a first step in the Utes' ultimate goal of winning the Pac-12 South.
"I think everybody understands the importance of what's going on," Johnson said.
Utah's first Pac-12 home game follows a series of significant events for the football program in recent years — Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and now membership in an automatic qualifying conference, which officially kicked off Sept. 10 at USC.
Johnson, who was the 2009 Sugar Bowl Most Outstanding Player, has been involved with it all.
"This place just keeps getting better and better each year," he said. "So It's been nice to be here, to be part of that and hopefully we continue to grow as a program and keep things moving in the right direction."
It's been a challenging road this season.
After opening at home with a win over Montana State, the Utes dropped a 23-14 decision at USC in their Pac-12 debut before bouncing back to blast BYU in the Rivalry Game, 54-10.
Then came a bye week, now this.
"Every week it seems to be built up just as much as the previous game," Whittingham said. "It's been a very intense first four weeks of the season."
Washington and its various formations, motions and shifts on offense only add to it. The Huskies, who are coached by former BYU star Steve Sarkisian, have a balanced attack led by versatile quarterback Keith Price, running back Chris Polk, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Whittingham said the Huskies have enough weapons to worry about that the Utes can't focus on any one specific player. Stopping Polk and trying to keep Price in the pocket, however, top the to-do list.
"We've just got to play sound defense and play assignment football," Whittingham said.
Utah's offense will also be tested. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson are experienced players that receivers like Christopher and Dres Anderson will combat.
Washington, across the board, will provide a lot of challenges.
As such, the Utes have made a concerted effort to keep their focus on the field this week and not the celebration surrounding it.
"I can't be thinking about that type of stuff during the week," Christopher said. "So I just try to treat it like another game."
In reality, though, it isn't.
Bringing the Pac-12 to Salt Lake City for the first time is a big deal — something the Utes and their fans are eager to see.
"We're competitors," Christopher said of the challenges ahead for the team. "We relish in this moment and we're actually looking forward to it."
Pac-12 home opener
Washington (3-1, 1-0) at Utah (2-1, 0-1)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Radio: 700 AMHeady goes here
TextPac-12 home opener
Washington (3-1, 1-0)at Utah (2-1, 0-1)Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV: ROOT (Comcast 52, DirecTV 683, Dish 414)
Radio: 700 AMHeady goes here
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