Utah football fans probably aren't worrying too much about their team's opponent on Saturday, but they'll at least feel a little envious when Weber State fields punts and kickoffs.
The Utes have had well-chronicled issues fielding and returning punts this season. That facet of the game has been a strength for the Wildcats since the 2005 season thanks to the play of kick returner Bryant Eteuati.
Eteuati, a senior from Northridge High, is Weber State's all-time leader in all-purpose yards, and the first player in Big Sky Conference history to record more than 1,000 yards in kickoff returns, punt returns and pass receiving. He has returned two punts for touchdowns, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and recorded eight touchdown receptions during his career at Weber State.
The Wildcats will need all the breaks they can get to keep Saturday's game close, and Eteuati is a game-breaking type of player who can provide the Utes with some surprises.
"He's very dangerous and good at what he does," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's shifty, he's fast and he's a good receiver as well. But he does a nice job returning kicks for them."
Of course, the Wildcats will need to get some stops and force some punts to get Eteuati involved in Saturday's game. If they can do that, the Wildcats are confident their explosive returner will make some plays.
"He's a factor in every game," said Weber State coach Ron McBride. "It just depends on how much we get the ball to him and all that stuff. But he's always a factor."
Another concern for the Utes is Wildcats quarterback Cameron Higgins. McBride agrees with the notion that Higgins compares favorably to most of the quarterbacks Utah will play against this season. Higgins is the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision leader in passing efficiency. He has completed 80-of-123 passes for 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns for a 176.49 rating.
Higgins, a sophomore, is fifth on the school's list of career passing touchdowns with 29. He needs just 246 more passing yards to move into Weber State's top-10 list in that category.
"He's doing a nice job with his decision-making, he's doing a nice job running the offense, and to this point he's had a very good year," Whittingham said of Higgins.
The Wildcats hope that their diversity on offense will cause the Utes some problems. Higgins likes to run the offense out of the shotgun and spread his weapons out. But Weber State can also tighten its formations and pound the ball with running back Trevyn Smith, who has led the Big Sky in rushing the last two seasons.
"I think it will be interesting to see how they react to the different personnel and formations," Higgins said. "The best thing to do is to run at them, and not run sideways."
Higgins said that because he is amazed by the speed of the Utes' defense. Trying to run wide on them isn't likely to generate much offense. Utah is ranked third in the nation in total defense, allowing just 199.5 yards per game. It is sixth in pass defense and 10th in rushing defense.
"They're not ranked No. 3 in the nation for nothing," Higgins said. "Everyone on defense is good. It's crazy to see that much speed on the field wow. That's all I've got to say is wow."
McBride is equally impressed.
"Defensively they're like an SEC team," McBride said. "They change direction well and they hustle their (butts) off. Their coaches are to be commended on their recruiting of defensive players and how they're making them play."
The Wildcats believe they'll be able to overcome the awe factor of playing against a bigger and faster team, and they're confident they'll be able to hang with the Utes on Saturday. They'll be motivated to have a good showing playing in front of the largest crowd that will see them all season. They'll also play hard for their head coach in his homecoming."Of course we want to win, not only for us but for Coach Mac," Eteuati said. "He had great teams and great success there. We're here, but he built basically everything over there."
McBride returns to U.
Weber St. (3-1) at No. 17 Utah (4-0)
Saturday, 6 p.m.TV: None; Radio: 700AM