The TribUte newsletter: Increased media presence at Rice-Eccles Stadium is proof enough that USC-Utah isn’t just another game

A high-profile Pac-12 game is drawing more media than normal to Rice-Eccles on Saturday evening

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) as the University of Utah host San Diego State at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Sept. 17, 2022.

Saturday night’s USC-Utah game at Rice-Eccles Stadium is going to draw a lot of attention, certainly more than your average regular-season game, which got me thinking about another big game I once covered.

I was on Rutgers coverage in 2014 when the Scarlet Knights entered the Big Ten. In its infinite wisdom, the conference did the right thing. It scheduled Penn State as Rutgers’ Big Ten debut. It put the game in Piscataway, with an 8 p.m. kickoff, and it sent BTN Football Pregame, which has since been renamed Big Ten Football Saturday, to campus.

The months-long buildup to Rutgers-Penn State was enormous, like Utah-Florida, but on steroids. One specific factor got my attention the week of the game.

Rutgers handed out 425 media credentials, which is a huge number for a regular-season game anywhere, let alone Rutgers. There was so much interest in that game, and the Penn State press corps. is so big, that an 80-seat auxiliary press box was put into use, remaining in place for that entire season as Michigan and Wisconsin also made the trip to Central New Jersey.

With this on my mind this week, I started wondering what the press box at Rice-Eccles Stadium might look like for USC, which is unbeaten, ranked No. 7, shaping up as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender, and generally has a sizeable press contingent following it, at least compared to the rest of the Pac-12.

Per an athletic department spokesperson, Utah, on average, has given out 75 media credentials per home game this season, a number that includes media with season credentials. For Saturday, Utah has issued over 110 for what is the highest-profile game Rice-Eccles will host this season.

That number includes print, radio, local TV, and photographers. From strictly a press box standpoint, 35 seats will be used by home and away media, as opposed to the season average of 26. Even with those extra seats being used, the Rice-Eccles press box is big enough that it is not expected to be at capacity.

To further make this point, I reached out to Ryan Kartje, who covers USC for the Los Angeles Times. He told me the Times, which has of course taken a bigger interest in the Trojans this fall with Lincoln Riley at the helm, is sending three writers to Salt Lake City. That group includes famed columnist Bill Plaschke, who is opting for USC-Utah over covering the Dodgers in the NLDS.

This isn’t just another game. This one matters. If you need proof of that, well, Plaschke’s presence says so.

Other things on my mind

• The roughing the passer penalty on Karene Reid at UCLA received a lot of warranted attention given how the momentum shifted as a result. On Tuesday, Reid, who is generally open and transparent with the media, said “at the end of the day, it’s just a selfish move and something that shouldn’t have happened.”

Fair enough.

Linebackers coach Colton Swan called it a “bang-bang play,” while saying Reid did a good job of what he calls “matching the hand,” meaning that as Dorian Thompson-Robinson went to release the ball with his arm up, Reid also had his arm up in an effort to alter the throw, or at least distract Thompson-Robinson.

Reid and Swan agreed on two things. In an instance like that, if the defender stays up and the QB goes down, it’s going to be a flag more times than not. To that end, don’t give the referee a reason to throw a flag.

A regrettable play, but a teachable moment for Swan, Reid, and the rest of the linebackers.

• Four-star class of 2023 power forward Keanu Dawes on Tuesday picked Rice over Texas A&M, Utah, and BYU. A few things here.

Dawes was born in Utah, lived here until he was 9, and still comes back here to visit family. His uncle is former BYU big man Derek Dawes, who played in 71 career games for the Cougars in the mid-to-early 2000s. From a Utes perspective, Craig Smith and Chris Burgess were doing the heavy lifting on this one, which is an indication of what they thought of Dawes.

• We can reasonably assess who the best QB in the Pac-12 is based on QBR, but let’s go another way. Who is the most valuable QB in the Pac-12?

The four realistic options are Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cam Rising, Bo Nix, and Caleb Williams. I’ll say this, with Saturday night at Rice-Eccles still pending, I don’t think it’s Williams.

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