This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY -- No more talking, let's get it on!
The college football season in the state of Utah has arrived. There are spectacular match-ups from teams in the state, including BYU vs. Washington, Utah State @ Oklahoma, and Weber State heading east to take on Boston College. But the game that kicks it all off is one of the best match-ups in all of college football the opening weekend, Pittsburgh vs. Utah.
The #24 Utah Utes come into the game with a 17-game home winning streak and a ninth consecutive bowl win. Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham said in his Monday presser, "We had a very productive off-season, but we've been pointing to this Pittsburgh game for a lot of months now."
The Utes have had to be looking at this game for a while, not just for the obvious reason that this is the first game on their schedule, but because this Pittsburgh team could be special.
"Pittsburgh's got a lot of weapons, they have a tremendous running game, Dion Lewis is an 1,800 yard rusher from a year ago, the receiver (John) Baldwin is a tremendous player, their two defensive ends led the nation in sacks last year, so there are a lot of positives for that Pittsburgh team," Whittingham said.
Dion Lewis rushed for 1,799 yards last season and is on the short list for the Heisman Trophy. For Utah fans, the most recognizable player that resembles what the Utes will see Thursday night is Jacquizz Rogers from Oregon State. In 2008, Utah hosted the Beavers and were burned by Rogers. He had 25 carries for 101 yards and one touchdown. If the Utes give up those kind of numbers to Lewis, it could be a long night.
The Panthers will certainly have a number of carries in mind for Lewis, as he is their workhorse. The Utah defensive line will have to be the stars in the game, both in the run and screen game with Lewis. In 2008 against Oregon State, the 4th quarter screen passes with Jacquizz Rogers almost won the game for the Beavers. Lewis will definitely be used in the short passing game to get him out in the open to make players miss, and also to give first time starting quarterback Tino Sunseri some chances to gain some confidence.
Lewis is all that he has been advertised and will be an NFL running back in the very near future.
Pittsburgh does have some questions offensively outside of running back. The aforementioned first-time starting quarterback Tino Sunseri has played in games, but mostly garbage time. Just a quick note on Sunseri, Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham mentioned in his weekly presser that he and Sunseri's father Sal, were seniors in college the same year. Sal Sunseri was also an All-American linebacker at Pitt and is now the linebackers coach at Alabama. Utah fans will remember Jordan Wynn's first start this last season in Fort Worth. TCU put the pressure on and forced Wynn into some big mistakes. The Utes have to be hoping on a similar situation for Sunseri as Wynn had at TCU. Rice-Eccles Stadium is completely sold-out, even the standing room. The MUSS is now 6,000 strong this season, and with the momentum Utah carries at home with the 17-game winning streak, Sunseri must manage the game to perfection. He is lucky he has Dion Lewis to rely on, and also a big receiver to throw the ball to in Jon Baldwin. Baldwin will go over the middle, will make every catch, and creates mismatches. He has the possibility to win national awards at the end of the season. Make no mistake about this Pitt team, they are for real and they have been waiting for this game as well.
Pitt Head Coach Dave Wannstedt said, "The focus has really been on them. Our guys understand that when you play on national TV against a ranked team, your focus has to be there, you have to have a sense of urgency. We really haven't talked about anything, to be honest with you, other than Utah."
He opened his presser by saying, "We are excited about this week. The game won't get here soon enough. Any time I think it's the opening game, it always carries a lot of end-of-camp, beginning-of-season attitude and there's that dead time in between when you're practicing and it's almost like a bowl game mentality."
Offensively for Utah, they are set at running back, quarterback, they have many receivers they can shuttle in and out of the lineup, and so where is the trouble spot? John Cullen might be the guy that the Panthers go at. Cullen is a great prospect coming out of junior college but he is completely unproven at this level. Pittsburgh boasts two defensive ends that led college football in sacks last season. With Tony Bergstrom at right tackle, Cullen seems like the area the Panthers will attack. Utah knows this and will help him out by chipping with a running back, or sliding the protection. What will also help Cullen is the Utes running game. Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide need to have an effective day. If both of them can get 15 or so carries and each a substantial yard total, Utah will be able to control the clock and keep that defense on the field in this high altitude. The Utes might want to utilize the short passing game in the no-huddle that has been so effective that past few years.
On the defensive side, everything starts with the line. If Sealver Siliga and company can control the line of scrimmage, contain Dion Lewis, and get some hurries and hits on Tino Sunseri without many blitzes, Utah will be in good shape. It will be interesting to watch the safety play. Utah has been so solid at safety for such a long time. Justin Taplin-Ross and Brian Blechen can really play, but they are completely unproven when the bright lights are on.
Some quick things to think about:
- The Utes are 0-5 against AP ranked teams in season openers.
- Utah is 7-0 against the Big East Conference. (4-0 vs. Louisville, 1-0 vs. PITT, 1-0 vs. South Florida, 1-0 vs. West Virginia)