1. Don't Overlook the Opponent.
Part of what made the 2004 and 2008 Utah teams so special was their ability to take care of business week after week.
Rarely overlooking opponents. Customizing game plans to exploit each opponent's weaknesses.
2009 should be no different.
This game has all the makings of a trap. While Utah State has struggled recently, this team is talented, well-coached and much better than most people think. USU QB Diondre Borel is a potent dual-threat with big play making capability.
At the same time, Utah will be breaking in a new QB while battling health and depth concerns on the offensive line.
USU's new Head Coach, former Utah Defensive Coordinator Gary Andersen, is a brilliant and aggressive defensive mind.
The Utes should expect Andersen and the Aggies to pressure an inexperienced signal caller and a make a line shift up front.
If the new Ute QB gets flustered, it's easy to see how a few costly turnovers can help the Aggies stay in the game and keep it close.
Fortunately for Utah, the game is at home. Utah is a heavy favorite and boasts several mismatches on both sides of the ball.
If Utah can execute their game plan, contain the USU offense and keep the new QB poised and composed, the Utes should take care of business early and use this game as a stepping stone to build upon for the rest of the season.
2. Get Ahead Early.
Utah is lethal as a defense when they know what the opponent is going to do. An early lead may force the Aggies to throw the ball and be off-balanced on offense.
By making the Aggies more one-dimensional, DC Kalani Sitake can be more aggressive with his coverage schemes and blitz packages.
This will put additional pressure on the QB in hopes of forcing turnovers and costly mistakes. Similar to last year's games against BYU and Alabama.
It will also provide critical coverage opportunities for Utah's two new corners Brandon Burton and R.J. Stanford. The Ute's only defensive position with limited starting experience.
3. Reps. Reps. Reps. Get the New QB Comfortable Running the Offense.
The key for Utah will be to establish the run early. USU will have a difficult time slowing RB Matt Asiata. This should open up passing lanes and help build the new QB's confidence with several short and quick passes to wide open receivers.
This is especially critical if the Aggies plan to pressure the QB.
Even if the Utes manage to take a big lead against the Aggies, Utah needs to give the newly crowned starter as many reps as possible.
Get him familiar with the with the playbook against a live defense in a limited pressure situation.
4. Get Healthy.
Starting Right Guard Walter Watts (probable) and Left Guard Caleb Schlauderhauff (questionable) have been banged up this last week of practice.
As a result the coaching staff has been doing a lot of shuffling to fill the void in practice.
With a new QB and a power back in Matt Asiata, a strong Offensive line will be crucial going forward. Utah can ill-afford depth issues up front.
If the Utes can break the game open early, they can get these starters resting on the side line while giving inexperienced backups live playing time.
In addition, DE Koa Misi, arguably the Ute's best returning defender, has been on the shelf suffering from back spasms. Misi is listed as questionable for Thursday's game.
While Utah will likely get by Thursday's game without Misi, they'll need him back and ready to play by the time they travel to Eugene, OR to battle the 14th ranked Ducks at Autzen Stadium.
5. Break in the New Coordinators.
The downside to last year's terrific performance is having to deal with the loss of two coordinators.
While most Ute fans aren't losing sleep over Offensive Coordinator Andy Ludwig's departure, it is always a leap of faith when you break in a new play caller.
Even if he's been with the system as long as Dave Schramm.
While Coach Schramm has undoubtedly added some new wrinkles to the Ute offense this year, I would expect Thursday's play calling to be fairly vanilla.
Focusing more on execution, personnel and familiarization rather than chicanery.
Coach Sitake is in a similar situation. While Coach Whittingham will always be heavily involved with the defense and DC Kalani Sitake is very familiar with the system, it doesn't hurt to get some real time play calling experience.
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