Kragthorpe: Opener offers insight about Utes, Aggies
Utah and Utah State temporarily ended their football rivalry after Thursday night's game, leaving things with a slightly more competitive look and feel while creating some first and lasting impressions.
The Utes' 35-17 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium was never really in question. Just the same, this was not quite the standard-issue performance by either side in the series that will take a two-year break, following the Utes' 12th consecutive victory over USU by an average of 25 points.
Here, in breakfast-sized bites, is everything you need to know about these teams -- and more important judgments have been made with considerably less evidence -- after the 2009 season opener:
Ute running back Matt Asiata, looking more lean and just as mean, is primed for a monstrous season. Asiata gained 156 yards and scored two touchdowns, although the Aggies finally quieted him in the fourth quarter.
Utah quarterback Terrance Cain will be fine as long as he's delivering short passes to David Reed and other dynamic receivers, but intermediate routes and deep balls are other issues.
Cain completed 11 of his 12 first passes in his debut as a junior college transfer and finished with 286 yards and two touchdowns, but was not nearly as sharp in the second half after the Aggies took away some underneath routes and made him throw the ball downfield.
Dave Schramm, Utah's new offensive coordinator, shows signs of being creative and effective, even if his fourth-and-1 call for a quarterback sneak at the goal line failed miserably in the second quarter. At least, that was more logical than Aggie play-caller Dave Baldwin's fourth-and-1 pass attempt early in the fourth period.
Discounting three turnovers, the Ute offense was efficient, posting 309 total yards in the first half and 519 for the game.
But it did bog down midway through the second half, and the Utes will face more imposing defenses than this one.
Former Ute defensive coordinator Gary Andersen will not immediately transform the Aggie defense with his aggressive style.
His scheme requires man-to-man coverage from outstanding cornerbacks, and let's just say USU lacks Utah's personnel.
Through some combination of Utah's mistakes and Utah State's big plays -- often working in concert -- this game was far more competitive than the previous five meetings, which produced an average score of 43-8. In the first half, the Aggies used Stanley Morrison's 48-yard reception, Bobby Wagner's fumble recovery, Robert Turbin's 96-yard touchdown run, a goal-line stand and James Brindley's interception return to the 5-yard line, just to stay within 26-17.
Having averaged barely more than 200 yards in those past five games against Utah, the Aggies posted 342 yards and showed signs of life offensively, although quarterback Diondre Borel's passing was not sharp at all. Borel still showed enough playmaking ability to make everyone believe he can thrive against some defenses in the Western Athletic Conference.
Other than allowing those two plays totaling 144 yards in the first half, Utah's defense still looks solid. The Utes produced a fourth-down stop, a goal-line interception and a safety, all in the fourth quarter.
Utah kicker Ben Vroman and punter Sean Sellwood look like quality co-replacements for the legendary Louie Sakoda.
Considering the initial struggles of Oregon's offense against Boise State, Utah's road back toward the Bowl Championship Series suddenly appears less challenging. As of midway through the third quarter Thursday, the Ducks had registered 18 total yards and zero first downs - hardly the sort of numbers worthy of an offense that figured to give the Utah defense a tough test in two weeks.
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