Can the University of Utah football team avoid (postpone?) clinching yet another losing season? Will a week of shortened practices revive the Utes come game time? Can their defense stop Dan McGwire this time around, even with their best pass rusher sidelined with chicken pox? Can the sluggish Ute offense score against the country's worst defense? And, by the way, who will be the Utes' Quarterback of the Week this time?
Tune in tonight to find out the answers to these and other questions, as Utah meets San Diego State in a locally televised game.The Utes are 3-5 overall, 1-4 in Western Athletic Conference play. Another loss would formally guarantee them their fourth losing season in the last five years. It also would keep them in contention for last place in the WAC.
The Utes have lost three of their last four meetings with the Aztecs, who are 2-4/1-2 and coming off back-to-back bye weeks.
Traditionally, the San Diego State-Utah game has been a close contest. Utah holds a 6-5-1 series lead, with eight of those 12 games being decided by four points or less.
The Aztecs, who have lost their last two games, undoubtedly view tonight's game as a fat opportunity, especially given Utah's lopsided 52-21 loss to Air Force last Saturday.
"If I was San Diego watching our films from the Air Force game, I'd be licking my chops," says Utah coach Ron McBride.
The Utes have made a few changes since last week's embarrassing loss. Concerned that they might be overworking the team, Ute coaches shortened daily practices by a half-hour this week. They also have been considering yet another change at quarterback. As of Friday night, McBride still was uncertain whether he would start Mike Richmond - last week's starter - or Jason Woods. Both have started four games this season. Woods has a chipped bone in his throwing hand, and must tape the last two fingers of the hand together to protect the injury, but he might play anyway.
"They both had equal reps this week," said McBride. "The guy who had the better practices was Jason." McBride said he wouldn't decide on a starter until late Friday night.
Elsewhere on offense, the Utes will use Steve Abrams - a starting halfback early in the season - at fullback, with freshman Brad Foster at halfback. Fullback Dean Witkin and halfback Cliff Smith also will play.
"This will be a good test for our team, to see how we battle back," says McBride.
"Everybody's pretty ornery," said tackle Mike Murry earlier this week. "We know we're better than (the Air Force game performance). If we play like we did against Air Force, we'll get killed."
The Aztecs will be a dramatic change of pace for the Utes after facing the Air Force wishbone offense a week ago. The Aztecs rank fourth nationally in pass offense, fifth in scoring offense and sixth in total offense. Quarterback Dan McGwire, who threw for a career-record 510 yards against Utah last season, ranks fourth in pass efficiency.
The Utes have to defend against McGwire without their top pass rusher, Jimmy Bellamy, who stayed home because of the chicken pox.
The Aztecs have spent the last two weeks trying to fix their defense, which ranks 106th out of the nation's 106 teams, allowing 509.3 yards and 39.8 points per game. They have intercepted just one pass this season.
"We won't know if all the work and all the talking about it has done any good until we put it into practice," says Aztec coach Al Luginbill.