The longer Chuckie sits in the pocket just gives him more time to make plays. We have to get to him as soon as possible and keep him in that cage. —Tenny Palepoi
SALT LAKE CITY — After taking a two-year break in a series that dates all the way back to 1892 and had been played 109 times, Utah and Utah State renewed the so-called “Battle of the Brothers” last season in Logan. The re-instatement followed a run of 12 consecutive victories by the Utes.
In the renewal, however, the Aggies put an end to the streak with a 27-20 overtime victory.
Now comes the rematch. Utah and Utah State open the season Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and there are storylines aplenty.
“It all adds intrigue for the media, the fans and the parents,” said Utah State coach Matt Wells. “But I promise you that once the ball's kicked you forget about all that stuff and it's game on."
The 111th meeting between the Utes and Aggies is eagerly anticipated by both sides.
“I can't believe the season is here already,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But we're excited about it.”
The Utes are champing at the bit for a couple of reasons. They went 5-7 last year and failed to make a bowl appearance for the first time in a decade — the loss to USU, as it turned out, was pivotal in the shortcoming. Thus, there’s a revenge factor involved.
Whittingham, though, knows that it’ll take more than motivation to top a team that went 11-2 in 2012.
“We expect that they are going to be every bit as good as last year,” he said. “And we have a big challenge ahead of us.”
Namely, USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Heisman Trophy candidate is first and foremost on Utah’s mind.
“He’s very good in extending the play, and when he gets out and improvises he usually does something really good,” Whittingham said. “So we’ve got to try to prevent that from happening.”
Defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi also stressed the importance of keeping Keeton in check.
“The longer Chuckie sits in the pocket just gives him more time to make plays,” Palepoi said. “We have to get to him as soon as possible and keep him in that cage.”
It’s demoralizing, noted defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly, how Keeton can extend things and pick up 5 or 6 yards on a broken play.
How Keeton performs is among the storylines to watch for USU. So, too, is how Wells does in his first game in place of Gary Andersen at the helm of the Aggies. He takes over a program that ended the 2012 season with seven straight victories, including three consecutive triumphs on the road.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is also an intriguing figure in the opener for both teams. The sophomore said he definitely feels more comfortable in the Utes’ new up-tempo offense under co-coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson. Wilson credits the team for doing a great job adjusting to the scheme. The arrival of Erickson, who won two national championships at Miami and has an extensive head coaching history in the college and NFL ranks, has Utah hopeful of energizing a stagnant offense that converted on just 2-of-17 third-down situations last year against USU.
Then, there’s the whole rivalry thing. Palepoi noted that it's always special when in-state teams play one another.
“It’s something big for us to be the best in Utah,” he said.
EXTRA POINTS: Utah leads the all-time series with USU, 77-29-4. The Utes hold a 52-17-4 advantage in Salt Lake City. This is the 12th most-played series in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history. The teams have a combined 103 players (59 for USU and 44 for Utah) from the Beehive State on their rosters.