The secret to Utah football’s success this season is no secret at all.
Everyone on the team knows exactly what it is and why it is and how it is.
It’s the major component that makes good teams great.
In its absence, good teams are made disappointing.
And it applies perfectly for the Utes’ opener on Thursday night against Weber State. Thereafter, it fits from start to finish in a Pac-12 schedule that includes lesser teams and better ones. It also applies to games against opponents such as Northern Illinois and BYU.
That one key is significant enough that it would be worth it for the entire team to scale Mount Olympus to obtain it, to retrieve it, to bring it back on a silk pillow and guard it, preserve it, observe it, at every turn, at every cost. And, yet, it is as common as the blades of grass growing on the Utes’ practice field. It’s part of the most often-heard cliche, the granddaddy of them all, in the vast and tired lexicon of coach speak.
It’s not giving 110 percent.
It’s not just wanting it more.
It’s not controlling their own destiny.
It’s not coming to play.
It’s not knowing how to win.
It’s not overcoming a lot of adversity.
No, it’s worse than any of those.
It’s … taking it one game at a time.
It is what it is.
For this particular Utah team, that one cliche on the silk pillow is the absolute essential.
It’s not talent. Utah has an abundance of that. Or speed. Or physicality. Or offensive and defensive structure. Or attitude or motivation or moxie or belief in itself. It’s not depth.
This team has all of that covered.
It’s focus. It’s power of concentration. Week by week by week. It’s taking it one game at a time and cramming it straight into the mug of that particular week’s opponent, whoever the poor SOBs are.
First up, Weber State.
“Every year, an FCS team knocks someone out,” said receiver Samson Nacua. “We don’t want to let it be us. We know they’re going to come out with their hardest to knock us off, but we’re ready to show them what we’ve got and really just blow them out of the water.”
Linebacker and team captain Cody Barton said the Utes have already grasped how good they can be — “We’re championship caliber,” he said — and, now, they intend to stack the bricks in the foundation to make it real: “It’s just continuing to work hard, continuing to grow and to focus. This year, a lot more guys seem to be dedicated to that as a collective group.”
Said quarterback Tyler Huntley: “Everybody’s focused and ready to play the games. Everybody’s ready to win some games.”
Nacua indicated that fully dialing in is not just a standard preachment that’s come from coaches, rather that the players themselves, sensing the aforementioned lofty reaches of the team’s potential, is aware and making sure that nothing will be taken for granted, nothing assumed. Certainly not victories.
“[The leaders] gave us that mindset,” he said, “that we can win the Pac-12. Everyone really believes it. Everyone’s 100-percent locked in to do everything we can to do that. … If we look past a team, we can lose. Each game, everyone’s going to be focused on that game only. When we win, we’ll focus on the next game. Some teams look past, like, an FCS team, but anything can happen. It’s football.”
He paused, and then added:
• “Everyone’s focused on Weber State right now. We’re not thinking about the rest of our schedule. Everyone’s ready to do what we can to beat Weber. And then … whoever’s next, we’ll be ready for them.”
• “I don’t even know the rest of our schedule.”
• “We’re ready to do our assignments, to give everything for this game, and then recover and start getting ready for the next one.”
• “It is key. Leadership on the team took control of that, to focus on what’s right here, what’s right now. Whatever comes next, we’ll worry about it when it comes.”
• “We’ve got talent. We don’t want to screw that up.”
The quickest way the Utes can screw it up is by not paying homage to, not doing what they already know. They cannot betray themselves. If they do not, they will ascend to what they could be. If they allow themselves the privilege of assumption, it will kick them down the hill to defeat and underachievement.
Sorry. But the Utes have to take it one game … well, you know.
It’s a cliche because it is true. Especially for this most capable team, in this most promising season.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.