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Utah football: Utes vow to not look past Weber State

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University of Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham. (Courtesy University of Utah Sports Information)

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Sep 06 2013 11:49AM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:33PM

Utah’s players always say they never look ahead at their schedule and just focus on the current opponent.

It’s a good thing they’re taking that approach, because peeking past Weber State might just scare the heck out of them.

The Utes, who play host to Weber State Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, are about to head into their toughest schedule stretch to date with games against Oregon State, BYU and UCLA ahead of them.

After that stretch, they have No. 5 Stanford at home, then play four of their last six games on the road. That final grind includes contests at No. 2 Oregon and No. 25 USC.

Yep, best to keep the eyes straight ahead and worry only about the Wildcats. The last thing the Utes want to do is end up as an ESPN highlight as yet another FCS upset victim.

Instead, they’d like a nice confidence-building win, one that will be fun for the fans to watch and good for the team’s inexperienced players to keep learning their roles. The last thing the Utes need is to take a bunch of unsure players into that difficult run.

"The way the schedule lays out this year, with a bunch of home games early, we need to gain some momentum," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged. "It’s important to take advantage of the home schedule because it is just going to get more difficult as the season goes on."

As it turns out, the Wildcats could present just the kind of opponent the Utes need right now. Utah’s defense was spotty against Utah State, giving up 487 yards of offense, including 301 in the first half.

Part of the Aggies’ success can be attributed to the standout play of quarterback Chuckie Keeton, but Whittingham saw plenty of areas in which the Utes must improve.

Enter the Wildcats, who put up 484 yards of offense in their 50-40 win over Stephen F. Austin. Weber State earned 315 yards on the ground, led by freshman Zach Smith (eight carries, 88 yards) and Bo Bolen (30 carries, 88 yards).

Utah’s secondary, which Whittingham called "shoddy" against Utah State, faces an inexperienced quarterback in Jordan Adamzcyk, who was 14-for-29 for 118 yards last week, in just his second start of his career. Saturday’s game could be a prime opportunity for Utah’s secondary to learn on the job without getting too burned. Starting corner Davion Orphey, a JC transfer, acknowledged that playing in his first major college game was a little eye-opening for him, as it was for many other young defenders.

"Once the third quarter started, I felt a lot better," he said. "We didn’t come together earlier; we just weren’t all there and doing what the coaches taught us to do. This next game, I think we’ll be even better."

Whittingham has been encouraged by what he has seen in practice this week both physically and mentally in the players.

"We’ve had several clean practices and have been able to cut down on the mistakes," he said. "We still have to transfer that into games or its not a factor. But based on what I’ve seen in practice, I think we can make a big improvement from last week to this week."’

And just in case the Utes are tempted to overlook the Wildcats, Whittingham frequently has reminded the Utes of all the upsets last week by FCS teams.

Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly believes his teammates are taking the Wildcats seriously, if for no other reason than the knowledge of what lies ahead of them.

"If we can beat Weber State this week, and we aren’t looking ahead to Oregon State, it’s going to help us the rest of the season if we can have that [swagger] and hopefully come out this week and take care of business," he said.

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