Utah Utes, Utah State football: Utes, Aggies brace for 110th meeting
LOGAN — After a two-year break, it'll be rivalry renewed when Utah and Utah State square off Friday night at Romney Stadium. The Utes and Aggies will meet for the 110th time in a series that dates back to 1892.
"Obviously both teams are going to be excited," said USU coach Gary Andersen. "It's the second game of the year and it's an in-state rivalry."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham agrees.
"It's going to be a dogfight," he said. "It's going to be a battle from start to finish."
Although the Utes have won the past 12 meetings — including the past six in Logan, by an average margin of 38-7 — things may be more competitive now. The Aggies are coming off their first winning season and bowl appearance since 1997.
"We view it as a big challenge," Whittingham said. "Gary's done a great job with the program."
Andersen, a longtime Utah assistant, is in the midst of his fourth season at the helm in Logan. Since taking over the program, Whittingham said Andersen has recruited well and that USU's speed and athleticism is night and day improved compared to the past. He added that the Aggies should have defeated defending national champion Auburn last season and would have been a 10-win team had that game and a few others not gotten away from them in the fourth quarter.
"They're a great football team," Whittingham said, while noting that USU has Utah's full attention.
As such, he's predicting that the team that is best prepared will win the game.
Both squads enter the game with season-opening victories over Big Sky Conference opponents. USU topped Southern Utah (34-3) and Utah defeated Northern Colorado (41-0).
This week, obviously, will be a step up in competition for both teams.
Andersen said when watching the Utes on film that "they're quality from top to bottom." He's particularly impressed with running back John White.
"The way he can cut is unique in my opinion. He can stop and go sideways on a dime," Andersen said. "A lot of backs can cut. But when you add good vision with his ability to cut — just dramatically sideways and kind of hop, skip around to get to the next hole — that's what I think really makes him an elite back."
White's toughness, Andersen added, makes the senior a "well-rounded, very schooled back."
Utah's highly touted defensive line also drew praise.
"It starts with the great one (senior tackle Star Lotulelei) and he has more than a quality supporting cast around him. That's why they're so good," Andersen said. "They've got a bunch of defensive linemen that are quality players. They understand the scheme. They play within the scheme."
Whittingham, meanwhile, was respectful of USU. He said the Aggies are well coached, play with great effort and have outstanding skill. Individually, Whittingham noted that sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton is a very good player. He completed 22-of-25 passes in the win over SUU.
The renewal of the rivalry, however, hasn't altered Utah's preparation model — though Whittingham acknowledged that there may be a little ebb and flow emotionally for the in-state players.
"We just go about our the business the exact same way, week in and week out. As I've said a thousand times before, if there was a better way to prepare, we wouldn't save it for any particular weeks. We'd do it every single week," Whittingham said. "And so that's what I meant when I'm saying this is just another ballgame in the respect that we prepare mechanically and time-wise and systematically, exactly like we do every week."
One major difference, however, is an abundance of familiar faces coaching on both sidelines. Besides Andersen, USU's staff includes former Utah offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and graduate assistant Kevin Clune. On the other side of the equation, Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a, fullbacks/tight ends coach Ilaisa Tuiaki and offensive graduate assistant Robert Conley used to work for Andersen at USU.
"I think it's a wash on both counts. There is no advantage either way. It's not a big factor as we create specific game plans week in and week out," Whittingham said. "There is familiarity, yes, but when all is said and done, I don't think it's going to be a factor."
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