A week ago, the Fresno State Bulldogs overran the University of Utah with a hard-charging rush that successfully shut down the Utes' passing and running attacks. The question now is will Utah's future opponents follow Fresno's lead?
Specifically, will the University of Hawaii, which plays Utah tonight in Rice Stadium, follow Fresno's lead?"That was a problem last year," says Utah quarterback Mike Richmond. "We opened with Fresno last year. Then everyone we played - Colorado State, Hawaii, San Diego State - scrapped their base defenses and worked on the Bear (a pressure defense) all week. They saw how Fresno State brought pressure and got on us. We may see that down the road again."
Beginning with tonight's game. After all, Hawaii has always preferred wide-open, blitzing defenses anyway. The zone defenses that Richmond picked apart against Minnesota might be a thing of the past.
"Whatever people hurt you with, that's what others are going to do," says Utah coach Ron McBride. "You're going to see more of it."
So it seems certain that the Utes must again find a way to counter blitzing, hard-charging defenses, which contributed to their demise last year and put then-quarterback Scott Mitchell in a chase scene that lasted three months.If McBride is worried, he isn't letting on. "Fresno didn't do anything that we didn't prepare for," he says. "We just had some breakdowns."
Richmond, who was named the starting quarterback earlier this week in place of Jason Woods, will be on the spot tonight, as will his blockers.
"Hawaii likes to bring pressure," says Richmond. "They don't have the biggest front (line) we'll see, but they are very quick. They do a lot of twisting and slanting."
What's more, Richmond knows Hawaii has one of the best pass rushers in the Western Athletic Conference in linebacker Mark Odom, who totaled 13 sacks last season.
For Richmond, tonight's game is something of a milestone in his career, marking the first time he has started a college game for reasons other than a teammate's injury. Richmond started the last two games of the 1989 season, but only because Scott Mitchell was injured. He started the second game of this season, against Minnesota, but only because Woods was injured. This time Richmond won the job because of his performance against Fresno.
Richmond, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in all three of his career starts, might have been the starter from the outset of the season if he hadn't undergone surgery on his throwing shoulder last winter. When training camp opened, the shoulder still was not back to full strength.
"I think it's 100 percent now," says Richmond. "I don't think there's anything I can't do now that I could do before."
The Utes hope Richmond is up to reviving an offense that has scored just 14 points in the last six quarters of play. A week ago, Utah, after winning its first two games, was beat soundly by Fresno State 31-7.
McBride is concerned about the Utes' state of mind after a loss. "I don't know this team's personality yet," says McBride. "It will be interesting to see how they react to a loss."
For the Utes, tonight's game will be their first conference game of the season. In preseason polls, they were picked to finish seventh or eighth in the WAC, but their good early-season showing has raised expectations. The Rainbows were expected to challenge for the WAC title, but already they have lost one league game (27-3 to Air Force). With both teams coming off big losses, with Hawaii facing early elimination from the WAC race, tonight's game could be an intense matchup.