College football: Idaho State coach not expecting to shock the world and beat Utes
David Zalubowski, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Kramer has been coaching college football for a long time, so the current Idaho State head coach knows that anything can happen when two teams take the field.
Sure, upsets occur all the time, and his team could definitely pull a gigantic one by knocking off the University of Utah in its season-opener Thursday evening.
After all, wouldn't it seem the Bengals from the Big Sky Conference might be catching the Utes at the right time, since Utah's program has struggled a bit the last couple of seasons?
And even though Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is reportedly on the hot seat, could the heavily favored Utes get caught looking past ISU, which is just 6-28 overall in Kramer's first three seasons at the Pocatello, Idaho, school?
"No-o-o-o-o, we're not catching Utah at a good time — at all — because I know Kyle's not up against it, but he's up against it in his own mind," Kramer said during the Big Sky's annual media day in July. "He's one of the most highly respected guys in the entire profession, but in his mind, Utah is not where he wants it to be.
"And that's as big an enemy or as big a fear that I have — that Kyle Whittingham's a guy that knows how to coach, he knows how to get ’em ready, and he's not going to take us or anybody else for granted.
"And I don't like that because, oh my gosh, they are considerably talented," he said. "And with the arrival of (offensive coordinator) Dave Christensen and his high-speed offense, this could be a bloody one for us. We have not played well in our Division I games, especially against the bigger schools. Wow, it's just gotten out of control so fast. So I'm definitely afraid of it.
"I don't know how Utah looks at it, but I know how Kyle Whittingham looks at it and this is a no B.S. deal for him. He is gonna rise that entire program; he's gonna pull ’em up and we will get their best shot because he wants to start 2014 with an exclamation point."
After Thursday's opener, Kramer's team turns around and plays at Utah State the following week. Weber State faced a similar one-two punch last season and lost by an embarrassingly lopsided combined score of 140-13.
"That could be the same situation for us," admitted Kramer, who's hoping his team can at least keep things respectable for a half. "Maybe we can play well enough early to hang on and make it a decent game at halftime. That's really our goal, is to be able to play good enough, particularly in the second quarter, to be able to hold that thing close enough where we can get to halftime and keep the fans interested.
"I just don't want to be looking at 50 points at halftime. I mean, every time we've played one of those body-bag games and we're down by 50 at halftime, there's really not anything you can say. We have a veteran team and they've been with me at Nebraska and at Washington, and they know what that feels like at halftime.
"What we don't want to do is we don't want to go down there and play like we don't know what we're doing," Kramer said. "And when we played against Nebraska (73-7 in 2012) or against Washington (a 56-0 loss last year) the last couple of years, there have been times when it's just been ridiculously obscene how inept we are against the talent level that we're facing."
Kramer, who in his 16 previous years as a Big Sky head coach has won four league titles — one at Eastern Washington and three at Montana State — says his Montana State teams were able to be competitive and didn't get "starry-eyed or fear" these kinds of games.
Building that kind of mentality at Idaho State, which hasn't had a winning season since 2003 and hasn't won a road game since 2006 — 44 straight road losses, a streak which Kramer admits is not in "jeopardy" this week — is going to be a much bigger challenge.
"We don't have a mindset yet where we can just play anybody all the time," Kramer said. "We're gonna try and ignore the fact that it's Utah but in the back of my mind, defensively, we haven't yet shown that we can play against anybody, so we've got a lot of work to do.
"A lot of our guys are looking at it as a challenge and it's pretty challenging, but it's a fun challenge. They know it's always 11 on 11, there's no advantage that way. And who knows what can happen? But the greater thing is, we know what kind of program we have and what we have to do, and it has nothing to do with Utah. Our pride could get savaged, but physically we'll be able to handle it."
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