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Utah football: Utes want to start conference play in right way

Published September 9, 2013 4:19 pm

College football • Utah is confident as its Pac-12 opener approaches.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Whether it was Utah's oh-so-close 23-14 loss to USC in 2011 or the 37-7 thumping Arizona State gave the Utes last year, Utah's endeavors into the Pac-12 have finished as poorly as they've started.

The Utes hope to change that pattern Saturday when they host Oregon State at 8 p.m. in their conference opener.

Coming off a 70-7 win over Weber State in which the starters played just a half, the Utes see Saturday's contest as a prime opportunity to show they are indeed a changed team.

Technically it is homecoming, but the Utes could see the game as a sort of send off party for all the struggles and bad mojo they've experienced in the Pac-12 the last two seasons.

"Our confidence is high right now," safety Eric Rowe said. "If we get this win against Oregon State, I'd feel like we'd be unbeatable this year. I already feel like that in some ways. We still have a lot of stuff to work on and we need to progress as the season goes along, but if we get a win our confidence would sky rocket."

The Utes had one for the record books against the Wildcats, with quarterback Travis Wilson throwing for 264 yards in a half and Utah earning the 10th highest single-game total in school history.

The Utes know things won't be so easy on Saturday against the Beavers who have proven to be one of Utah's toughest rivals in recent seasons.

In 2007 the Utes suffered key injuries to quarterback Brian Johnson and running back Matt Asiata in a 24-7 loss.

In 2008 Utah beat the Beavers 31-28 with Louie Sakoda kicking a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

After the Utes beat the Beavers 27-8 in 2011, they returned the favor by taking advantage of numerous Utah mistakes to get the win last year.

Such history adds just a little extra spice to the contest.

"Mike Riley has done a great job with that program," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They had a tremendous year last year and they are like us, still figuring out who they are this year, but they have been a good rival."

Key to Utah's success will be stopping quarterback Sean Mannion, who is second nationally averaging 397 passing yards a game. His favorite receiver, Brandin Cooks, ranks fourth averaging 144 yards a game.

Whittingham said Utah's secondary remains a concern for him and Rowe said he has warned his teammates Saturday's game will be a challenge.

"I was telling them during the Weber State game they need to get the technique right because we have a long road down the season where the competition is going to be hard," he said. "Starting off with Oregon State is going to be a good test for us." —

OSU at Utah

P Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV • Fox Sports 1