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SALT LAKE CITY - Flashback to Sept. 2, 2006. Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado was the site for the season opener for for the Colorado Buffaloes and then first year coach Dan Hawkins. The opponent was the Montana State Bobcats, a FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA) team from the Big Sky Conference (which is the same conference that Weber State is in).
Is it possible that a team from the powerhouse Big 12 Conference (Colorado) could lose to a Division I-AA team? No. I mean let's be honest, with the recruits and BCS money backing the Buffaloes, there is no way that they could lose.
Most of this series was played in the first half of the 20th century, with the exceptions falling in 1951 and 1982. Utah's 9-0 lead includes six shutouts. Eight of the nine games were played in Salt Lake City, most recently in 1982 (a 30-12 Ute victory). Utah's point advantage in the first nine games was 455-25.
- Series Record: Utah leads 9-0
- Last Utah Win: 1982 (30-12)
- First Game: 1909 (Utah 46-0)
- Last MSU Win: N/A
- Last Game: 1982 (Utah 30-12)
- In Salt Lake City: 8-0
- In Bozeman: 1-0
- Series Streak: Utah 9
Oh, how wrong we would be. Montana State starting quarterback Cory Carpenter threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jefferson in the third quarter and Jeff Hastings kicked field goals of 35, 44, 19 and 41 yards as the Bobcats defeated the Buffaloes 19-10.
So while many fans are already looking ahead to next week's inaugural Pac-12 matchup against the USC Trojans, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has his team's full attention on Montana State.
"We're anxious for the season to begin and we open against a well-coached and talented Montana State team. The Bobcats were one of the best teams in all of the FCS last year and they have our full attention," Whittingham said.
Led by starting quarterback DeNarius McGhee, the Bobcats were an offensive juggernaut in the Big Sky Conference in 2010. McGhee had one of the greatest freshman seasons in Bobcat history and is already 10th on Montana State's career list. McGhee threw for 3,163 yards, the third-highest single-season total in school history. To say expectations are high for him this season would be an obvious understatement.
The Bobcats will have a running back by committee approach in 2011, with their returning starter being ruled academically ineligible. Senior CJ Palmer, freshman Cody Kirk, and Nebraska transfer Tray Robinson will all be battling for playing time.
While the Bobcats may be inexperienced at running back, the same can't be said of the receiver position. Elvis Akpla, a transfer from Oregon, and Everett Gilbert return as two-year starters. The two veterans combined for over 1,200 yards a year ago, and provide the Bobcats different kinds of weapons in the passing game.
On the offensive line, the Bobcats will have five upperclassmen starters. Senior tackles Conrad Burbank and Leo Davis, senior guards Casey Dennehy and Alex Terrien, and junior center Shaun Sampson all spent time in the starting lineup last season.
With a returning quarterback like McGhee and two solid receivers, expect Montana State to air it out. This will be a very good first test for Utah's inexperienced secondary (more on this later this week).
Montana State has had the top ranked defense in the Big Sky six out of the past 11 seasons. And something to take note of - the Bobcats are 15-0 during head coach Rob Ash's tenure when the defense puts points on the board via a safety or fumble/interception return. The Bobcats are also 18-0 since 2007 when finishing a game with more takeaways than giveaways.
Montana State's 2011 defense will be anchored by two returning starters at linebacker. Senior Clay Bignell and junior Jody Owens will be joined by senior Roger Trammel, who will be filling in for injured sophomore Aleksei Grosulak. Grosulak injured his knee in spring drills and will miss an unknown portion of the season. Trammel will have big shoes to fill as Grosulak was the Bobcats' leading tackler as a true freshman in 2010.
Only one starter returns on the defensive line. Senior defensive end John Laidet will be joined by juniors Zach Minter, Christian Keli'i and Caleb Schreibeis.
Like the defensive line, Montana State has only one returning starter in the secondary, cornerback Darius Jones. Jones will be joined by sophomore Sean Gords at corner, while sophomore Steven Bethley and junior Joel Fuller take the safety spots.
The Bobcats have a very similar defensive structure to what Kyle Whittingham and the Utes use, with corners going one-on-one with receivers on the outside, freeing up the safeties to help against the run.
"I've always said that the game starts from the outside in on defense," Montana State head coach Rob Ash said. "The more you can match up one-on-one at corner the more you can free your safeties up to do other things - to help against the run, to defend against the short passing game, or whatever."
"We're going to play aggressive, up-tempo defense, and you'll see guys flying around making plays just like you have the last few years from those positions," Ash said.
Kicker Jason Cunning is the Bobcats' equivalent to former Utah star Louie Sakoda. Cunning became the top kicker in Bobcat history last fall in points and field goals.
"Jason Cunningham has been so consistent that you can almost take him for granted. He has been so accurate, he's gained distance during his career, he's really a weapon," Ash said.