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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah football season starts off with what many people view as a warm-up to USC the following week, but Kyle Whittingham and Company don’t see it that way. The Utes will be welcoming Montana State into Rice-Eccles Stadium Thursday night to open their 2011 season.
- Utah (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12) vs Montana State (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky)
- Date: Thursday Sept. 1, 2011
- Time: 6:00 pm (MT)
- Site: Salt Lake City (Rice-Eccles Stadium/45,017)
- TV: KJZZ
- Radio: ESPN700
- Series Record: Utah leads 9-0
- Last Meeting: 1982 (Utah 30, Montana State 12)
- Kickoff Weather: Partly cloudy, Temps: lower 80s
The Bobcats nearly upset Washington State last season when the Cougars needed 16 fourth-quarter points to stave off Montana State. There are many question marks surrounding the Utes as they enter this season with many new faces, and the Bobcats are led by dangerous offensive threats that could cause problems for Utah.
Here's a look at five key questions to decipher what to expect from the Utes coming out of fall camp and preparing for the Bobcats.
What did we learn from Utah during fall camp?- The offensive line is very thin.
- Injuries could be the Achilles heel for the Utes in 2011.
- Either the defense is dominant or the offense is in trouble.
- Jordan Wynn’s time off has transformed him into a strong leader.
What questions still linger coming out of fall camp?
- Who will step up as the Utes' key playmaker?
- Will the mixing and matching on the offensive line be able to protect Wynn?
- Is Wynn’s shoulder fully healed, as he and the Utes staff are claiming?
- Will the secondary be able to compete with the powerful Pac-12 offenses?
- Who is going to establish themselves as the starting running back?
What can Utah expect from Montana State?
- The Bobcats will give the Utes a good fight — just ask Washington State. Montana State tied for the Big Sky Conference Championship in 2010 with Eastern Washington, who went on to win the FCS National Championship. Montana State also beat the eventual national champs last year, 30-7.
- Montana State will bring a potent offense. Orenzo Davis, MSU’s star running back from 2010, was ruled academically ineligible for 2011. However, they will bring back DeNarius McGhee at quarterback who threw for 3,163 yards last season, the third-most in school history.
- Pressure from the defensive line. Zach Minter anchors a defensive line that created a lot of havoc for Big Sky Conference quarterbacks in 2010. They should be able to do so again this season.
What can we expect from Utah against Montana State?
- A more competitive game than most expect. They Utes should handle the Bobcats, but it shouldn’t be a 40-plus point deficit at game’s end.
- An abbreviated game for Wynn. You can bet that Wynn will not play the entire game unless it comes down to the final minutes. The Utes will try to nurse their starting quarterback into action after his shoulder injury and make sure he’s healthy for USC next week.
- A plethora of different running backs. Since Whittingham has not yet decided for sure who the starting running back is, we should see everyone getting a chance Thursday. It sounds like John White will get the majority of the carries, but Thretton Palamo, Harvey Langi and Tauni Vakapuna will also see significant time in the backfield. Miscellaneous:- The last time the Utes played Montana State was in 1982, winning 30-12.
- Utah is 9-0 against Montana State all-time.
- Utah is 31-0 all-time against Big Sky teams, the last victory coming over Weber State in 2008, 37-21.
- Kyle Whittingham is 4-2 in season openers as a head coach.
- Montana State finished fourth in the FCS in total offense in 2010.
- DeNarius McGhee won the 2010 Big Sky Offensive MVP award.
- Rob Ash is 29-17 as the Bobcats' head coach.
The Utes should win this game easily, but don’t expect an Urban Meyer-like blowout. Montana State is a good team with a powerful offense and a fast defensive line. This will be a big game for Wynn, but mostly to prepare to the Pac-12 slate and especially USC next week. John White and Vakapuna should get most of the carries, but don’t sleep on Karl Williams as a potential backfield target.
Trevor Amicone is the Sports Director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the Sports Talk Radio Show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone." To check out more blogs by Trevor, go to trevorstoptens.com.