You can’t give them enough credit for what they’ve done the last two years. I mean, to win 20 ballgames in two years, there’s not a lot of teams in the country that can make that claim. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been awhile since Utah and Fresno State squared off on the football field. The last meeting was in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 18, 1999. Mike Anderson rushed for a school-record 254 yards that day as the Utes edged the Bulldogs 17-16.
The outcome gave Utah a 5-4 advantage in a series that included five games as Western Athletic Conference rivals from 1992-98.
“It seems like it hasn’t been that long,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of the nearly 15-year break in matchup.
Whittingham, who has been with the Utes since 1994, recalls that it has always been back-and-forth with the Bulldogs.
“It was a competitive series when they were in the same conference as us,” he said, while noting how much time has passed since then. “But they’ve done a great job. You can’t give them enough credit for what they’ve done the last two years. I mean, to win 20 ballgames in two years, there’s not a lot of teams in the country that can make that claim.”
Under third-year head coach Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State has undergone a resurgence — going 20-7 overall and 14-2 in Mountain West Conference play. DeRuyter replaced veteran head coach Pat Hill, who was fired after 15 seasons and a 112-80 record at the helm.
Although Hill and the Bulldogs tied Utah with 17 wins against teams from BCS conferences during the era ending with the Utes’ departure to the Pac-12 in 2011, Fresno State was just 40-41 over Hill’s final 81 games with the program — including a 4-9 record in his last season.
The rise of the Bulldogs under DeRuyter reached great heights last season with veteran quarterback Derek Carr. They were 10-0 and likely on their way to earning a berth in a BCS bowl before losing a 62-52 shootout to San Jose State in the final game of the regular season.
Fresno State, thus, has Utah’s complete attention going into Saturday’s game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. As for the Bulldogs’ 52-13 season-opening loss at USC, Whittingham said it just wasn’t their day against the Trojans
“Look at what they've accomplished the last two years. I realize each year is its own entity and separate team, they've lost some players and we've lost some players, but all you have to do is look at the personnel man for man,” explained Whittingham. “They have a safety (Derron Smith) who is outstanding and a defensive lineman (Tyeler Davison) who is very good, and their running back (Marteze Waller) just about got 100 yards on USC.”
Whittingham added that the Utes are determined to go into every game with the same mindset, regardless of what happened the week before — noting that anything can happen on any given Saturday.
“We go into every game really respecting our opponent and not taking any other approach,” Whittingham said.
DeRuyter, likewise, expressed respect for Utah. In his weekly press conference, DeRuyter noted that playing the Utes will be a challenge, but one his team is looking forward to.
“I know our players relish these kind of opportunities,” DeRuyter said. “We didn’t take advantage of our opportunity on Saturday but thankfully we’ve got another one to hopefully show people what we showed on Saturday is not the 2014 Bulldogs — that we’ve got a lot more football in us.”
Fresno State (0-1) at Utah (1-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700