Anyone who has been around Utah coach Kyle Whittingham for any length of time surely has noticed the coach is more intense than ever this year.
Whittingham has kept the pressure on the team by being critical of efforts in the press, calling out guys for not being in shape and showing his displeasure with those who have lingering injuries.
It's rather obvious the coach is feeling an urgency to put his first losing season as a head coach behind him, far, far behind him.
But even as the Utes prepare for their most difficult schedule to date, I'd argue Thursday's game against the Aggies is one of the most critical for the coach.
Whittingham simply can't afford to lose to the Aggies in back-to-back seasons. Losing to BYU, as painful as it is for Utes, is one thing but at least the Cougars are perceived as a program that in general is on a par with the Utes.
The Aggies, as much as they may not want to believe it, are still considered a little brother in the state. Losing to them twice would mar all the achievements Whittingham has enjoyed as Utah's coach.
Don't believe me? Just ask Ron McBride, the last guy to lose to the Aggies in back-to-back games, in 1996 and 1997.
McBride, who coached the Utes from 1990-2002, won all the other matchups with the Aggies, but "people still remember those losses," he said. "They don't forget. They are the ones that people bring up, especially this week. To lose to a team you should beat, it's so painful."
McBride feels some sympathy for Whittingham this week, knowing the pressure he must be feeling. He also feels sympathy for him because he has to have a Utah team prepared for a quarterback in Chuckie Keeton he believes is one of the top three or four in the country.
"He's quick, he has a strong arm and he can run and he is a leader," McBride said. "If he needs more he can get more, he is that kind of guy. They're a good team."
Are they good enough to beat the Utes? One can't imagine it happening again, particularly if you are in Whittingham's position.
"When you're playing a team like this where the perception is you should beat them, you better beat them," McBride said. "Those are the kinds of losses that put black marks on careers."
- Lya Wodraska
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