The Utah Utes will host the Utah State Aggies Thursday in a game that is filled with storylines. The most notable storyline has to be the head coaches.
Kyle Whittingham and Gary Andersen have known each other since they were both with Idaho State in the early 90's.
The Utes have come off an undefeated Sugar Bowl win and the Aggies have come out of one of the most difficult seasons ever in Logan.
What we know about Utah State:
We know that new Head Coach Gary Andersen has taken Fred Whittingham's defense with him up to Logan. He is, as Utah Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester has called him, "The Einstein" of defense. We know that the Aggies will have a sound defensive structure, sound technique, and ready for anything anyone will ever throw at him.
We know that Utah State Junior Quarterback Diondre Borel is an amazing athlete. The man, even though undersized can do most anything. He can run the ball and throw it with anyone. He should be a bright spot for the Aggies this season. Andersen has also seen what a dual threat can do in the spread offense, having been on the Utes staff when Alex Smith was quarterback, and also with Sugar Bowl MVP Brian Johnson.
We know that Utah State also has a threat at the running back position. Robert Turbin is now a sophomore and has the ability to turn heads. He is quick, and fast, and with him and Borel in the backfield, the Aggies have the opportunity to score on every single offensive down.
We know that Utah State has done the right thing in hiring a man such as Andersen. He brings instant credibility to a place that is looking to right the wrongs from the recent past. Bringing in Andersen has gotten people excited in Logan, but that is not enough.
Andersen needs his players to buy in to what he is preaching. We know that his players have done that. The question is will they remain committed when times are tough.
I believe they will because his players have bought in wherever he has coached. There does need to be some patience though. Andersen is in his first year and results do not happen overnight. Andersen will get the program turned around and once he does, there will be great student-athletes winning bowl games in Logan.
What we know about Utah:
We know that there is stability up on The Hill with Whittingham there as the head coach. Everyone knows who the boss is and he runs the show. We know that he is going to have his stamp on this team, this year, as he does every year. He knows the expectations and meets them head-on.
We know that there are many unknowns for this team. There is a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator. There is a brand new quarterback trying to step in and run a team that has never taken a Division 1 snap before. We don't even know who that quarterback is yet.
There are two corners who are trying to replace Brice McCain and Sean Smith. These are key positions on the field that are going to be coached by brand new coordinators.
We know that Matt Asiata is primed and ready to take on the full load as the running back. With a new quarterback, having the offensive line that the Utes have returning, and a big dynamic running back in Asiata, that takes a load off of whoever will take the snaps; in fact, Asiata may take many of the snaps. Asiata could get the ball 30 times a game. With a great defense and a spread out ball control offense, the Utes could have another outstanding year.
We know that the Utes have to replace a kicking game that has saved them in recent history. The Utes have to basically replace their entire Special Teams unit. They have a new long-snapper, place kicker, punter, and kick returner. In what has been possibly the most reliable kicking game in the country, it is time for Utah to unveil a new kicker to replace the beloved Louie Sakoda.
Thursday night's game will be special for many reasons. Seeing the Utes again for the first time since the amazing night last January will be exciting to say the least. This year's Utah Utes are anxious to create their own legacy. This is a different team, and will have a different personality, but one thing is for sure, the Utes are young, they are fast, and they are nasty.
We will see if the Sugar Bowl win against Alabama has brought in some special talent to try to help the Utes reload and defend their Mountain West Conference Title.
Andersen's greatest concern when he got to Utah State was to create a new culture. The first step was through hard work, and the second was strength training. The Aggies were nowhere near where they needed to be to compete at the Division 1 level and it showed. Utah State has worked and they are getting stronger, but turning this ship around will take years.
Thursday Night will be the first night to try and redirect that program and get it moving in the right direction.