Utes: What Sugar Bowl?
So is the 2008 season, capped off by the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, really out of their minds as they prepare for 2009?
Yes and no, the Utes say.
The remarkable 2008 season can serve as a learning experience for 2009, but the rejoicing and gloating that came with their undefeated season are over. Really, they insist.
"We look back on tapes to study plays and cutups to know, but talk of the Sugar Bowl is only in the media, not the team," linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. "With this team, everyone is looking straight forward to the Aggies and getting out there and hitting somebody."
Perhaps one of the reasons the Utes are so eager for 2009 is that they believe they can be not just good, but great.
Sure, the Utes were picked to finish third in the conference and have road games at Oregon, TCU and BYU and they don't know who their starting quarterback is, but they aren't in the habit of believing they can be 10-2 or 11-1. They're aiming for perfection again -- just don't call it a quest.
"For the people who believe we can't do it two years in a row, tell me I can't do something and I'll show you," Sylvester said. "If we work hard and as long as we believe in each other, we should be able to do whatever we want to do."
Aside from the unknowns at quarterback, which is no small matter, the Utes like how their offense looks. The offensive line has three strong anchors in Zane Beadles, Zane Taylor and Caleb Schlauderaff, while the running game is anchored by Matt Asiata.
Asiata split time with Darrell Mack last year but was still sixth in the conference with 707 net rushing yards. This year, he is about 12 pounds slimmer, a difference coach Kyle Whittingham saw in the first practice.
"He has great vision and is quicker than he looks," he said. "He is a deceptive runner."
Asiata is expected to be the offense's main focus until the quarterback situation is settled, but the receivers should be strong once they are more in the game plan.
Seniors David Reed and Aiona Key are big, physical talents while junior Jereme Brooks is a proven playmaker.
Defensively, the Utes have seven starters returning whose experience should help make up for the loss of Brice McCain, Sean Smith and Paul Kruger to the NFL.
All-MWC preseason pick Sylvester, fellow linebacker Mike Wright and a deep defensive line have the Utes believing they can be even better than last year's defensive unit, which ranked No. 11 nationally in total defense (289.2).
"We are shooting for the best, that is what we are hoping for," Sylvester said. "We hope to be the best at everything. We don't want to be good at one thing and lack at something else."
If the Utes can accomplish that goal, well, then they believe they can accomplish any goal. They might have been picked to finish third in the league, but they will remind you that they are still undefeated.
"Definitely there is a lot of pressure coming off last season, but the way we are training, we know we have high expectations," quarterback Corbin Louks said. "Every college football team wants to play in the big games. At this level, you have to expect to be the best."
What we learned » There is "zero difference" between the quarterbacks, in coach Kyle Whittingham's words.
Who was hot » Freshman defensive tackle Latu Heimuli was singled out for his efforts.
Who was sidelined » Linebacker Mo Neal's day was cut short because of cramps.
Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," blared from the speakers as Utah's football players took to their practice fields Thursday.
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