Utah’s home opener is not nearly as sexy of a matchup as the one we all saw a year ago with the Michigan Wolverines coming to town, but it is important nonetheless. The T-Birds of SUU are a formidable enough FCS opponent that this game should be something like a fistfight with that little brother who finally hit puberty. The Big Brother Utes are certainly still at an advantage in all of the important areas (size, speed, depth) but little bro is an upstart who is more than capable of landing a few good shots. If you didn’t go grow up with siblings, you might not have experienced exactly what I’m talking about, but at the very least we have all seen it in some way or another.
Games like these can be tricky for teams with lesser maturity and lesser leadership on the coaching staff. I believe the Utes will take care of business and hand out more lumps than they take. More importantly, they will also be less shocked by the lumps they themselves take than the fans at Rice-Eccles will be. The reactions and overreactions of folks in the crowd will be much different than those of the Utes themselves, because they have studied enough film on these Thunderbirds to know that a stiff enough challenge is coming.
Utah is heavily favored, as they should be, and I am confident they will finish the game on cruise control for the simple reason that they will not begin the game that way. We’ve heard Kyle Whittingham’s cautionary statements about not being “that team” that gets upset by the underdog in week 1 every year. His group will likely play with swagger, but not the dangerous arrogance that led to rough days for Washington State recently, or Michigan nearly a decade ago.
So here are the 3 things that Utah needs to come away with in a win Thursday night.
1. Health. The low-hanging fruit is too important to ignore. Utah must come out blazing to build the comfortable kind of lead that will allow them to rest starters in the last quarter-and-a-half. Plain luck plays its part here as well, so keep your fingers crossed or bring the salt to throw over your shoulder or whatever it is that you do.
2. The beginnings of an offensive identity. I know that many fans want for Utah to keep it vanilla against SUU and not show too much of the playbook against a lesser opponent. I’m not talking about busting out the trick plays. I’m talking about the one phase of the game that has plagued Utah for too long becoming less of a liability, if not yet a strength. We’ve been told that balance is a goal, that an improved passing game is a goal, that relying less on one bell-cow back is a goal. None of that will be fully realized or achieved in week one, There had better be obvious progress in that direction, because the train won’t have an easy time getting started in week two, if they wait that long. Utah needs to start to show us, but more importantly THEMSELVES that the offense is a real weapon in the 2016 season, starting now.
3. Confidence for week two. BYU is still trying to figure a lot of things out under new coach Kalani Sitake, but they have some formidable personnel. That means Utah’s week needs to be spent prepping for a game that is always unpredictable, rather than fixing mistakes made against the T-Birds. SUU will give them a spirited check, but the sledding only gets tougher from here.
Don’t expect a perfect performance in week one. Don’t expect that every single player will come away unscathed. Don’t believe that all of the guys we’ve been talking about for months will show up and play like stars. Don’t panic if it’s a little uglier and sloppier in the early goings than you hoped for. A new QB and a new center almost guarantee one offensive series will end in an unforced error.
Do believe that Utah will pass this first test and move on to the next, and DO enjoy yourself today. Because football is BAAAAAAACCCCKKKKKKK
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