In theory, San Jose State’s visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night should serve as a get-right game for the Utes. Pad some stats, work out some kinks and get players some experience on the way to a comfortable victory.
The Utah football team (2-0) takes on SJSU in its second home game of the season at 8 p.m. Saturday. It’ll try to remain unbeaten this season and extend its nonconference record to 24-1 since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Mountain West Conference member SJSU (1-2) will look for its first win over a Pac-12 opponent since 2006.
One concern for the Utes has got to be their energy level after grinding out a physically and mentally draining win against BYU in Provo last weekend.
“There is a hangover effect at times after an emotional game like the one last weekend, but last year we were able to put it behind us and move on,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I think last year was first year that we had won the week after the rivalry game. Hopefully we can duplicate that this year.”
There were plenty of reasons for the Utes to look forward to each of the first two games. First, there’s the unparalleled anticipation of the season opener. This season it probably reached an even higher echelon than most seasons because the Utes had many first-time starters and players stepping into large roles for the first time.
Then came last weekend’s rivalry game against BYU, which always brings a heightened intensity. The Utes also had extra time to gear up for BYU because of playing their opener on a Thursday night.
Now, a game against SJSU just seems like it might come with a natural inclination to look past this weekend to next week’s Pac-12 Conference opener at Arizona, the team’s first game this season outside of the state boundaries. The Utes have been careful not to disrespect this week’s opponent publicly.
“I feel like in college football any team can come out and play the best game of their lives,” senior defensive tackle and co-captain Lowell Lotulelei said. “They’re coming off, obviously, a bad loss to Texas, but I feel like they could come out and turn on the gas and go away with it.”
SJSU enters this weekend trying to bounce back from a 56-0 drubbing at the hands of Texas last weekend. The loss marked the program’s first shutout since 2014.
The Spartans’ first-year coach, Brent Brennan, has some familiarity with the Utes. His defensive coordinator Derrick Odum played for and served as an assistant at Utah. Both Brennan and Odum were assistants on Gary Andersen’s staff at Pac-12 member Oregon State.
“The best thing that I can give our football team in preparation for this game is to get them to understand what we’re going into, which will be the most hostile environment in the Pac-12,” Brennan said. “It is a team that is extremely physical, extremely well coached. This is a tough game. This is a man’s game, if you will.”
Defensively, the Utes will get tested by a spread offense that plays at a fast tempo similar to their own offense. Neither North Dakota or BYU played exclusively without huddling.
Offensively, the Utes offense will attempt to follow through on Whittingham’s edict that the running game must show an ability to stand on its own without being propped up by the athleticism of sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley. Huntley, the team’s leading rusher through two games, accounted for 389 of the Utes’ 430 total yards against BYU.
SJSU’s defense has allowed an average of 305.7 rushing yards per game this season, including 406 yards and six rushing touchdowns last week against Texas.
Through two games, the Utes have been called for 22 penalties (232 yards). While those miscues have not proved costly on the team’s win-loss record thus far, the penchant for drawing the yellow flags from the officials wiped away two touchdowns last weekend. The Utes scored on five of seven red zone chances, but four times they settled for field goals.
“I see that we’re capable of doing it,” Huntley said of the offense’s execution. “We know we can do it. It’s just simple things that’s holding us back, and we’re going to fix those things.”
SAN JOSE STATE AT UTAH
At Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
Kickoff • 8 p.m.
Radio • 700 AM, Sirius XM 134/XM 200, Internet 954
Records •SJSU 1-2, U of U 2-0
Series history • Utah leads 7-1
About the Spartans •Three quarterbacks have played for the Spartans this season. Redshirt freshman Montel Aaron started last week’s game against Texas. Aaron is believed to be the first player, dating back to the 1970s, to play as a defender on a special teams unit (punt coverage) and play quarterback in the same game. … Junior linebacker Frank Ginda became the first player in Football Championship Subdivision to record 40 tackles. He enters this weekend with 42 tackles in three games. … The Spartans’ defense recovered three fumbles and converted those turnovers into 14 points in its 34-13 win against Cal Poly. … The Spartans will play Utah, Utah State and BYU during the course of this season.They’re the only team to have all three FBS teams from Utah on its schedule.
About the Utes • The Utes rank No. 14 in FBS in total defense (237.5 yards per game) coming into this weekend. Four different players have interceptions through the first two games. …Sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley has completed 73.5 percent of his passes and averaged 263.5 passing yards per game as well as 79.5 rushing yards per game. … Senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II leads the team with 17 catches, 256 receiving yards. He has 14 of the team’s 45first downs. … Punter Mitch Wishnowsky, last year’s Ray Guy Award winner, has averaged 51 yards per punt this season and has had two punts downed inside the 10-yard line. He also has four punts of 50 yards or more.