The all new, All Hit, University of Utah football program made its debut here Saturday against Utah State, a school the Utes can count on to lead with its chin.
The Aggies fell without a sound. They didn't score a single point in a 19-0 game that gave the Utes their first shutout in 100 games - dating back to 1981, when they shutout Northwestern, Portland State and Utah State all in the same season.It was welcome relief for a beleaguered Utah defense that ended the 1989 season in the NCAA Div. I-A cellar - 106th out of 106 teams. And, appropriately, the play of the game was a picture-perfect tackle by a newcomer to the Ute defense.
They'll be showing cornerback Mark Swanson's tackle of USU running back Floyd Foreman - a tackle that stopped a third-quarter touchdown bid by two yards and turned the ball over on downs to the Utes - over and over again this week in the film room. Not only was it a good solid tackle, it was also precisely where Swanson, a freshman who redshirted last season, was supposed to be.
"They said just play within the system and you'll be in the right place at the right time," said Swanson. "And that's what happened. If the tight end releases out, I'm supposed to fill in inside. So that's what I did." And lo and behold there was Foreman, dead in his sights.
"We've got a lot of new, young guys on defense," said Greg McMackin, the Utes' new defensive coordinator. "But they're doing what they're asked to do and it's working. We're trying to be a swarming, attacking defense that gang tackles and makes the big play. Every defense likes to establish a personality. That's the personality we'd like to have."
This year's defense bears little resemblance - in personnel and philosophy - to the defense last year that gave up over 650 yards in each of the last three games of the season to grease the way for the firing of Head Coach Jim Fassel.
Still, a strong opening-day showing by the 1990 defense against Utah State may not be a harbinger of spectacular stoppages to come. Because of this: Last year's on-the-way-to-the-cellar defense also stopped the Aggies cold.
In a 45-10 Utah rout in Salt Lake in the second game of the season, Utah State didn't score until the fourth quarter, when the score was already 45-0. The Aggies gained 204 yards in that game. Yesterday they gained 147.
Utah's offense gained 558 yards en route to the 45 points a year ago; yesterday's offense - also almost totally re-tooled over last season in terms of personnel and philosophy - gained 343 yards.
So while the jury may still be out on the all-new Ron McBride Utes - to be sequestered at least through this weekend's game at Minnesota and the folloowing weekend's Rice Stadium date with the Fresno State team that hammered the Utes 52-22 a year ago - this much is obvious: their annual match with instate rival Utah State is tonic for the Utes' soul.
They'd give up this weekend about as soon as George Bush would give up his weekends to Kennebunkport.
The Aggies are better than a therapist at making the Utes feel good about themselves. They give them a superiority complex.
It wasn't always this way. In the '60s and '70s, the Aggies (and the Olsens) won more than they lost against the Utes. But in the decade of the '80s Utah won eight games and lost two, and now the '90s looks like more of the same.
The only two USU wins in the last 11 years have been by four points (in 1983) and five points (in 1987). Otherwise, the Ags have been outscored by an average of nearly three touchdowns a game.
Yesterday's outcome was right on average.
It is pleasant news for a Utah program that hasn't otherwise enjoyed a rip-roaring decade - four head coaches and just four winning seasons in the past 11 years - but it is hardly good news for an Aggie program that is trying to right itself.
Over the past six-plus seasons - two under Coach Chris Pella and the last four-plus under Coach Chuck Shelton - the Ags have played 25 nonconference games against other NCAA Div. I-A schools. After yesterday's loss they are 1-24 in those games.
The better news is they are 23-28 in league games over that same six-year span. Meaning that this weekend's game in Logan against Long Beach State - a team that was whipped 79-0 in its opener yesterday at Clemson - may be just the tonic the '90 Aggies are looking for. Getting the Utah game out of the way has become not much more than a necessary evil.