SAN DIEGO It's time.
After spending parts of four weeks preparing to face Navy's triple-option attack in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Utah is ready to play some football.
The Utes (8-4) face the Midshipmen (8-4) tonight at Qualcomm Stadium.
"I think we're as ready as we're going to be," defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. "It almost has a two-a-days, let's-go-play-a-game feel to it at this point. We need to go play this game.
"We've spent a lot of time preparing for it," he added. "And I'm sure Navy feels the same way."
Utah's bid for a seventh consecutive bowl victory comes with a terrific challenge. The Utes must find a way to slow Navy's rushing offense, which ranks No. 1 in the nation with 351.5 yards per game. The Midshipmen, who have won four straight games, average nearly 40 points per outing. They've punted the ball just 21 times this season.
"You've got to stay assignment sound and run to the football. That's the key in this game. They're a very potent offense. We all know that," Andersen said. "It's a huge challenge for us. But we're excited about the challenge."
After wrapping up practices Tuesday at the University of San Diego, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham praised his team's effort in getting ready for the game.
"We've had a lot of preparation time, but it still comes down to matching their execution and their precision with which they run the option attack at," he said. "We've just got to make plays. That's the bottom line."
It won't be easy.
Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is a double-threat guy. The junior leads the Midshipmen with 830 yards passing and
782 rushing. He's had a hand in 17 touchdowns.
Another weapon to watch is Reggie Campbell. He's one of the nation's leaders in kick returns and all-purpose yardage.
The Utes are well aware of the Midshipmen's strengths. They've broken down the film and had double-digit practices to get ready.
A few days ago, Andersen told Whittingham that "no matter how we play, we're not going to get much better or much worse in the last couple of practices."
The Utes, he explained, have done a nice job in terms of preparation. Andersen proclaimed the team "fresh, clean and ready to run."
Determination and motivation are plentiful as Utah seeks to continue its 6-0 bowl roll.
"To get your seventh win in a row it's a big accomplishment," cornerback Brice McCain said. "We're trying to do it and become one of the few to do it."
It's the second-longest active bowl streak in the nation. A win tonight would put them in a tie for first with Boston College. The 14th-ranked Eagles, who have won seven straight, face Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl later this month.
Utah, though, isn't worried about what else happens. Quarterback Brian Johnson said the Utes are focusing on their own situation.
"I'm excited. I'm excited to play in a bowl game and be on national television," he said. "So we can show the nation what we are all about and hopefully come away with the win."
A victory would cap an injury-plagued season with a 9-4 record a win plateau the program has only reached five times before. The Utes started the season just 1-3 before turning things around. Their only loss since Sept. 22 was a 17-10 setback at BYU on Nov. 24. The latter was a bitter defeat, one Utah is eager to follow with a bowl victory."We've done all we can do preparation-wise. We've got to keep preparing, obviously, until kickoff, but I feel like we're ready. Guys are ready to show up and play a great game," Johnson said. "I think we've taken advantage of the time we've had to prepare for this game and got some guys healthy. I'm excited and ready to play."
On the air
Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
Today, 7 p.m., MSTTV: ESPN Radio: 700AM
Utah bowl history
Year Bowl Opponent Outcome
1939Sun New Mexico W, 26-0
1964 Liberty West Virginia W, 32-6
1992 Copper Washington St. L, 31-28
1993 Freedom USC L, 28-21
1994 Freedom Arizona W, 16-13
1996 Copper Wisconsin L, 38-10
1999 Vegas Fresno State W, 17-16
2001 Vegas USC W, 10-6
2003 Liberty Southern Miss W, 17-0
2005 Fiesta Pittsburgh W, 35-7
2005 Emerald Georgia Tech W, 38-10
2006 A. ForcesTulsa W, 25-13
E-mail: [email protected]