Yes, Utah State does still play football these days, and to prove it, Coach Chuck Shelton made one of his rare appearances at the Big Five football luncheon in Salt Lake City Tuesday.
He said he'd "felt disenfranchised" having had two weeks of byes and little attention or controversy after the 45-10 loss at Missouri Sept. 15, but Shelton quickly got back into the swing of things, surprising a questioner by saying he hopes that Oregon waters down its field again Saturday for the Aggie game.That was an issue in BYU's first loss of the season at Eugene last Saturday, but when asked about it Tuesday, Shelton said, "I don't believe in those problems. You take every pair of shoes you own."
Besides, he said, he thinks Omniturf, the brand installed at both Oregon and Missouri, provides better footing when watered because of the sand underneath it.
BYU has a bye this week, but it had an announcement to make anyway: Junior outside linebacker Jared Leavitt will undergo surgery Friday for what is believed to be a herniated disc in his neck. Surgery on the Walla Walla Community College product will be partly exploratory as doctors will attempt to confirm their diagnosis. BYU sports information director Ralph Zobell said the Cougars are considering bringing Snow College transfer Scott Giles off the redshirt list to start and replace Leavitt.
Meanwhile, Utah Coach Ron McBride said the difference in his team and the teams he's lost to is the intangible - a belief that they can win - and Weber State Coach Dave Arslanian and Shelton each seemed to have similar thoughts in their minds.
Utah State (1-2) at Oregon (3-1), 2 p.m. MDT - "We have more talent than what we've been able to display on the football field," says Shelton, adding, "Yes, we have changed quarterbacks, but that's not the total answer."
Ron Lopez will get his second start at quarterback Saturday in Eugene. His last start, against Long Beach Sept. 8, resulted in a knee strain in the first half, and former starter Kirk Johnson replaced him in that game and played most of the game at Missouri, partly because Lopez wasn't yet ready and partly because Shelton desired a moving pocket against the big Tigers.
The Aggies have spent the past two weeks retooling their offense to accommodate Lopez, a dropback passer rather than a scrambler like Johnson.
Shelton says the coaching staff has been challenged to find the key that unlocks the team's so-far hidden potential. At Missouri, "We broke down in execution more than any team I've coached, and we have more talent than any team I've coached," Shelton said. "Right now, we just haven't got the chemistry offensively we need to get things done."
Utah (2-3) at Colorado State (3-2), 12:05 p.m. MDT - After watching films of the loss to Wyoming, McBride concluded that the Cowboys find ways to win and that the Utes haven't learned that process yet. "Our football team has to learn to go one step further," he says. On one key Wyoming drive, the Cowboys "made five great plays," said McBride, impressed that they'd invented a way to put it out of reach by converting two fourth downs and scrambling their way out of sure lost yardage.
Colorado State, he says, also has that winning attitude. "Maybe they're not as good as Wyoming, but they believe they're going to win. You can see it in the films. The fourth quarter, they're playing harder than the first quarter," McBride says. "They're going to give anybody trouble," he said.
Weber State (3-2) at Eastern Washington (3-1), 3 p.m. MDT - Arslanian, too, addressed confidence after beating Montana State 32-20 Saturday. "Our team's getting close to that belief factor," he said. "I hope this game did a lot to solidify that."
That game was a first for Arslanian as head coach - the first time the Wildcats had beaten anybody who beat them last year, his first year at the controls, and that's what has them feeling extra good this week despite some injuries.
Big Sky rushing leader George Jackson will be able to play despite a tender knee, but his backfield mate Geoff Mitchell (broken foot) and defensive tackle Kenny Peck (torn knee ligament) both suffered potential season-ending injuries.
Besides that, said Arslanian, a bunch of his special-teams linemen were hurt by the Wildcat kicking game that was "atrocious" Saturday. Regular Brent Chuhaniuk is suspended indefinitely for violation of school and team policy, and his replacement didn't score a point Saturday in a 32-point Weber outburst. His kicks kept going low into the line. "We injured our offensive linemen - we kept kicking them in the butt with the ball," Arslanian said.