As the air begins to cool and the leaves begin to change, we inch closer to kick off for the Utah Utes highly-anticipated 2018 season.
As Bruce Buffer might say, “It’s ttttiiiimmmmmeeeee!”
The Utes welcome neighbor Weber State to Rice-Eccles Stadium tomorrow at 6p.m. and will look to get to 1-0 against one of the top teams in FCS football.
Former Ute Jay Hill is entering his fourth season at the helm in Ogden and he’s had plenty of success thus far. When Hill took the reigns for WSU, the Wildcats were coming off one of the worst seasons in program history. The struggles didn’t last long under his direction. Fast forward just three years and the Weber State Wildcats came just one win shy of an FCS national title birth. Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham spoke highly of his former protege.
“First of all me and Jay are very close,” Whittingham said. “He was one of my first hires when I got the head job way back when and he coached very well for us the entire time he was here. He was very versatile. He coached special teams, he coached defense, he coached offense… outstanding recruiter and he was very valuable to any success we had here. When he moved on and had the opportunity to be the head coach at Weber, it doesn’t surprise me at all what he’s doing there and the success he’s had and will continue to have.”
The meteoric rise from the depths of college football has been an impressive one, but does it mean the new look Wildcats have enough to compete with the big guys? Let’s take a closer look at our northern neighbors and find out.
After the departure of their starting QB and the frequent struggle though the air in 2017, the Wildcats have opted to turn to redshirt freshman and prolific dual-threat QB Kaden Jenks. It’s a big task for a freshman to start his first game on the road. It’s an even larger task for an FCS freshman QB to start his first game in Rice-Eccles stadium against one of the premier defenses in the Pac-12 conference.
Jenks put up ungodly offensive numbers in prep school but didn’t see any game action during his redshirt year at WSU in 2017. It’s safe to say that the freshman hasn’t had much experience being pressured by the likes of Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu. He’s definitely never faced a secondary like the one he’ll see tomorrow… bless his soul.
Unlike Jenks, a lot of Weber State’s roster is fairly experienced. Four starters return on the offensive line, several contributors return in the backfield and the defense runs it back with most of their front seven still intact.
The Wildcats leaned heavily on the ground game last season and did so with measurable success. Considering the inexperience of their starting QB and the stout Utah defense, expect them to repeat that conservative strategy on Thursday. With the return of Treshawn Garrett and Kevin Smith plus the addition of an absolute beast in Kris Jackson, Weber State actually has a pretty formidable three-headed monster in the backfield. They’ll surely be the the offensive focal point.
Look out for one of the Wildcats only returning playmakers on the outside in Rashid Shaheed. An electric returnman and dynamic receiver, Shaheed earned first team All-American honors as a freshman in 2017.
The defensive front and linebackers are, collectively, probably the best unit on this Weber State team and they’ll be relied on to curtail Utah’s offensive production. An inexperienced secondary makes a tough job even tougher for the Wildcats front seven.
Weber State is a good football team. They are tough, disciplined, talented and well-coached. There’s no doubt that they’ll compete for the Big Sky title and maybe even make another playoff run. That being said, it’s a whole new ball game come tomorrow night. Facing a legitimate Pac-12 power on the road in understandably a pretty tall task. As they kickoff their 125th season, the Utes should have no trouble dispatching a pesky Wildcat team.
Predictions from ESPN700?
Bill Riley (@espn700bill) — Utah 41 – 13 Weber State
Kyle Gunther (@GuntherESPN700) — Utah 45 – 10 Weber State
Ben Anderson (@benshoops) — Utah 45 – 6 Weber State
Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper) — Utah 38 – 10 Weber State
Porter Larsen (@Larsen_ESPN) — Utah 49 – 13 Weber State
J.P. Chunga (@JP_Chunga) — Utah 50 – 4 Weber State
James Peterson (@JersyJames23) — Utah 45 – 3 Weber State
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