SAN DIEGO A former Ute will be on the other side of the field on the sidelines trying to beat the Utes when Utah and Navy face each other Thursday night in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Dale Pehrson is the longest-tenured coach at the Naval Academy, currently in his 12th year on the staff. He coaches the defensive line and is also the recruiting coordinator.
"I'm excited, I've been waiting for this day," Pehrson said. "It will be fun. A lot of guys that I played with are coming, and I know coach (Kyle) Whittingham and coach (Gary) Andersen. I'm hoping to see some old friends."
While Pehrson was excited when Utah was announced as a bowl opponent, he said, "I'd rather not play them personnel-wise."
Pehrson said the Ute offense presents a lot of problems for his defense. He calls quarterback Brian Johnson "pretty special" and says he is probably the key to the Ute offense.
The 54-year-old Pehrson is a native of Utah, where he was an all-state football player at Murray High School before coaching there as an assistant and a head coach (1984-87). He played for Utah in the early 1970s under Bill Meek and Tom Lovat as a defensive back.
While he was coaching at Murray, he got his M.A. at Brigham Young and went to Missouri Western State in 1987 and then to Southern Utah, where he coached from 1991 to 1995. He came to Navy in 1995 with former Utah State coach Charlie Weatherbie.
"It's been a tremendous experience," he said. "Obviously we don't have the biggest or the fastest guys, but they play with a lot of heart."
Pehrson says he only gets back to Utah occasionally and was amazed at all the changes the last time he came.
"I made some great friends there and still stay in touch with a lot of guys," he said. "It's always nice to get back. That's still home and always will be."
NO CHANGES: Navy's new coach Ken Niumatalolo had nothing but praise for Utah as he talked about the Utes following practice Tuesday morning at UC San Diego, near La Jolla.
"We're going to have our hands full," he said. "They are very sound in what they do and have great players to execute their plan."
Niumatalolo, who was named head coach earlier this month after Paul Johnson left to coach at Georgia Tech, said the Midshipmen aren't going to make changes for Thursday's game.
"We do the same things over and over and hopefully our kids get better through repetition," he said. "Our philosophy is, hey, if they're better playing defense against what we do, that's what we're going to do anyway. Hopefully it's good enough for us to win."
BORING: Utah defensive end Martail Burnett has played in three bowl games and is looking forward to Thursday's game against Navy. However as a defensive end, he'd rather not be going up against the top rushing team in the nation that runs the ball most of the time.
"Defensively it's pretty boring because we don't get to pass rush," he said. "I would rather see a team pass 70 times if it was up to me, because then I'd have the opportunity to get four or five sacks. But that'll never happen."
DEFENDING THE OPTION: Steve Tate was an option quarterback at Salt Lake's Skyline High. That comes in handy for him as he tries to defend the option against Navy as the Utes' strong safety.
"It's funny, when we played Air Force last year, they would audible and it would be the same calls I had in high school identical so I had a little heads up," he said.
However, even if he knows what's coming, it still isn't easy to defend an option attack like Navy's, he says.
"With an option stack like this, you know what they're going to do. So it doesn't really matter on their part. They probably know we know. But they execute really well, so you just have to do your best."
HOW CONVENIENT: It was convenient for some members of the Navy athletic department and some Navy fans to have the men's basketball team playing against San Diego State Monday night at Cox Arena.
The Midshipmen put up a good fight, taking a two-point halftime lead before faltering in the second half and falling 86-76.
The Navy women's team also played San Diego State Tuesday night at the Cox Arena.
FINAL PRACTICE: Tuesday morning's practice at the University of San Diego was the finale for Utah's seniors. The only remaining session for this year's team is a planned walk-through at Qualcomm Stadium today. Head coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged it's an emotional time for the soon-to-be-departing Utes.
"They won't let on that it is but I know in the back of their mind it's there," he said. "You never know if it's your last game as a football player. You don't know what the future holds, but I'm sure there's some emotions running high right now with these guys."
MCCAIN UPDATE: Starting cornerback Brice McCain, who injured his knee in practice Monday, insists "it's good" and he'll be ready to play Thursday night. The junior explained that his knee is not bruised and that he just hit it or something.
WEATHER WATCH: Whittingham isn't too worried about a rainy forecast for San Diego over the next couple of days."I don't see an advantage either way. I just think that you've got to deal with the elements. I really don't foresee that as a factor in the game positively or negatively for either team," he said. "I just think that both teams have got to deal with it."
Contributing: Dirk Facer E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]