Friday night at Rice Eccles Stadium Utah and Utah State will renew their rivalry for the 112th time in their long and storied history. The Utes lead the all time series by a huge margin, 78-29-4, however the Utah State program is as healthy as it has been in many many year. The last time the Aggies visited Rice Eccles it was close in 2013, with Utah winning 30-26 on the strength of newcomer Andy Phillips on side kick and 3 Field Goals.
Utah comes into the contest having won 16 straight non conference home games, with the last loss coming against Boise State on September 30th 2006. Utah State hasn’t won in Salt Lake City since 1997.
Here are three things to keep and eye on Friday Night:
1. Will Domo Hatfield Play?
Kyle Whittingham has been very coy this week since announcing his reinstatement to the team. Whittingham has said that he will play when he’s ready to play. I asked at his Coaches Show if that would be in the next couple weeks and he mentioned it COULD be this week. It won’t surprise me at all if Hatfield suits up and sees some time on the field. The question is, Where? Will it be strictly a special teams role to get his game legs back under him or will they use him in rotational role at corner?
2. Can they pressure Chuckie Keeton?
Last week for the first time in more than a season, the Utah Defense failed to register a sack and really didn’t get a ton of pressure on Michigan QB Jake Ruddock. Chuckie Keeton presents a different set of problems with his mobility and ability to lengthen the play. Southern Utah got to Keeton just once a week ago. Fanaika, Fitts, Dimick and Taumoepenu I’m guessing have been properly motivated in practice this week by Whittingham and John Pease. The one issue to a big up field rush against Keeton is if you miss, that’s when he becomes most dangerous or has in the past. It remains to be seen after two season ending leg injuries if Keeton is the same elusive Quarterback he once was. Either way pressure up front is a key!
3. Can Utah get the ball to a playmaker down the field?
Week one was an efficient if not explosive offensive outing for the Utah Offense. Travis Wilson did as much damage with his legs as he did with his arm against Michigan. Booker and Covey were solid too. For Utah to make the next step offensively they will have to get the ball down the field. Kenneth Scott and Tyrone Smith had just two catches each, all for short gains. There is an outside shot that Tim Patrick returns this week for Utah, he was in uniform but not ready ready to roll. The Utah State corners are all under 6 feet tall, Wilson needs to find a way to get the ball downfield and outside to his Scott (6-3), Smith (6-4) and Patrick (6-5). My expectation is that the Aggies will load the box to take Booker away, some early shots could open the offense wide for the Utes.
We’ll have at least 13 hours of Game Day Coverage on ESPN 700 Friday, beginning at 11am with Brian Swinney and Jake Murphy on Red Friday, then Sean O’Connell and Mike Wright with Ute Game Day PreGame at 2, finally Frank Dolce, Bo Nagahi and me will take you the rest of the way on the broadcast starting at 5.
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