Utah football coach Ron McBride likes having a 3-0 record, but he's as aware as any naysayer that the Utes' 3-0 is not as impres sive as U. fans would like it to be.
The opponents are a collective 1-7, Utah nearly let Louisville off the hook two weeks ago and got the shakes so bad last Saturday against Hawaii that the Utes went from a 20-0 lead to a 21-20 deficit in a six-minute period of the third quarter before waking up to a 30-21 win."Maybe it was good for us. It gave us some adversity. It tested our guts," says McBride, whose team may be ripe for a letdown tonight when it hosts 2-1 Boise State of the Big West at 7 in the homecoming game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
It's Utah's third straight home game and its first with no emotional attachment. Utah needed to avenge two straight losses to Utah State. With Louisville, it faced John L. Smith, who coached USU and Idaho to a 3-1 record against Utah. Last week was the WAC opener. The Utes are at Wyoming next week.
That leaves tonight as: a chance to be 4-0; a mental respite from a troubling world.
McBride sounded at times this week like a guy who isn't sure which of his teams will play the majority of this game, though he was thrilled with Wednesday's practice. "Guys were screaming for the football," he says.
McBride made a real hedge-your-bet statement this week: "Don't be surprised when somebody loses to somebody they're not supposed to lose to because that's just the way it is right now," he said. For the Utes to not be that team, "We've got to play a complete football game to beat Boise State. Period," McBride says.
Of Louisville and Hawaii, he says, "You let them hang around, and they'll beat your butt. We continue to do that, and we're going to lose games. Our team has to learn, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, to finish."
The Broncos are trying to learn to play for former Oregon offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, their fourth coach in four years. They played Washington State to a standstill two weeks ago in Bronco Stadium and probably should have won, says McBride. Boise State had six turnovers but led 7-6 at the half before falling 33-21. Its wins are over Cal-Northridge and Portland State. This is its first road game. It's a team that's suffered from some of the same lapses Utah's made, as well as poor special-teams play so far.
The Bronco strength is a large and heavily experienced offensive line. Koetter says the Broncs will likely lean on that line and rush a lot against Utah. But they have done a fair amount of passing and have two experienced QBs (Bart Hendricks, Nate Sparks) who each threw for more than 1,000 yards last year. "You always have to massage your offense a little bit to get it to meet what your team does best," Koetter says.
McBride says Boise on offense looks like Oregon last year. Utah lost 31-13 at Oregon when Koetter used his tight end to gain some 250 yards. McBride wouldn't be surprised to see a Bronco tight end moving the ball tonight. He adds, "Their defensive players don't stay blocked."
Ute quarterback Jonathan Cross-white, getting his second start of this season after starting nine games in '97, notes that the Bronco defense is small but runs well laterally. "They blitz, move the free safety into coverage and bring the guys in front of him," Crosswhite says.
But the Utes have the feeling that it matters more what they do.
"We've got to brush up on executing," says Ute receiver Jerome Anderson, who caught six passes for a career-high 107 yards and a score against Hawaii.
Utah played well enough but made four turnovers, and its offensive line false-started nine times. Utah blamed that on Hawaii illegally mimicking its cadence, but the Utes also had four false starts in the first half of the Lousville game. Crosswhite says that, to avoid the false starts, he's making his calls louder and the line has worked on recognizing his voice.
NOTES: Ryan Kaneshiro started out kicking "short" field goals, but he was used for a 41-yarder vs. Hawaii. "If we get out to 50, we'll have the other guy (Cletus Truhe) kick," McBride says . . . RB Mike Anderson has a sore ankle but will play. Luis Park will start at left guard, and Sam White at right guard for Todd Jackson, who has a sore elbow but will play . . . The defense's take on all the offensive mistakes? "We like that opportunity when something happens, sudden change. We don't like it all the time," says linebacker Jason Hooks . . . Anderson's four drops last week were blamed on gloves that he wore. "He doesn't need gloves," says McBride. "What the h--- he need gloves for? Those must have looked good, must have looked cute or something."