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Utah: McBride says trip to Oregon is a good gig for the Utes

SHARE Utah: McBride says trip to Oregon is a good gig for the Utes

EUGENE, Ore. — Their tune may change an hour or so into this afternoon's game, but at least until kickoff, coach Ron McBride and his Utes are just plain happy to be going into Autzen Stadium to meet the Oregon Ducks, ranked seventh and eighth on national polls and with a Heisman candidate at the controls.

"It's a good gig, man. For a coach, it's great. For the players, it's great. Let's go play and see what happens," McBride said.

"You want to play good people. They've got 21 games at home they won. Man, we go up there and have some fun, play some football and see what we can do."

Utah, 1-0 after beating Utah State 23-19 last Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium, is at Oregon at 1:30 MDT.

Utah had problems on its trip already. Its charter plane was stuck in Venezuela Thursday and Friday with mechanical problems and the new plane had 50 fewer seats, meaning a number of people, mostly fans, were left home to find their own way to Eugene.

Oregon is 1-0 after beating No. 23 Wisconsin 31-28 last week, the Ducks' 21st straight home win. It wasn't as convincing as many expected, but Heisman hopeful Joey Harrington came through strong at the end, his trademark.

Just the kind of competition the Utes say they want, even if the last time they were here, 1997, Oregon won 31-13.

Receiver Cliff Russell says, "This is the type of game you dream of playing in — a top team, you're the underdog, nobody expects you to win. This is a game you want to make big plays in."

And there's no time like the present, even if Utah passing sputtered against USU. "I think this is the perfect time," Russell said. "We need a game like this. It's going to show the type of character of the team, how prepared we are."

Kemoeatu has the same outlook. "I wouldn't mind playing a top-ranking team. It's always good to play top teams," he said. "I think this is the biggest game for our team."

McBride said he knows how well Oregon will play. "I'll be more interested to see how our team reacts," he said.

Utah's defense has made a name for itself, often ranked high nationally in some categories. Meeting this potent offense is an opportunity for Ute defenders to shine against a real somebody. "Oregon is a good team," says the anchor of that defense, Kemoeatu. "Who knows? We might get lucky."

Utah's offense and kicking have been its downfall recently, but it got 11 points from kicker Ryan Kaneshiro last week. His only miss was because the line couldn't cope with an overload. The running game was powerful, Adam Tate, Dameon Hunter and Marty Johnson accounting for 235 yards. Johnson is doubtful today with bruised ribs.

If the passing game connects — receivers got very open last week — the U. could make some noise. Quarterback Lance Rice has gotten a lot of support from his coach and teammates since his overthrow-a-rama against the Aggies.

"He's a whole lot better than how he played," said Russell, blaming first-game jitters. "He was trying to get the ball out to us. That's the good thing. He's not taking off running. We're going to start completing those passes."

"Rice has just got to learn to relax, set his feet, see what he sees and throw it," said McBride. He noted that Rice was operating a different vehicle, with the change of coordinators and schemes. "You've got a whole new set of rules he's under, from one offense to another. You notice how many different guys have the ball, so his reads are different, his thought processes are different. So I've got no complaints about him at all," McBride said.

Utah won't be afraid to throw deep. "We'll take whatever the defense gives us. If the defense gives us something, we'll take it upfield. We're not going to wait around. We're going to go in there and play our game," McBride said.

He said it's unlikely that redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Elliott, from nearby Lake Oswego, will fulfill his dream of playing at Autzen today. Elliott injured a thumb playing basketball and missed spring ball, had surgery, then reinjured the thumb a week into fall practice when he hit it on a helmet in practice. He has been practicing for two weeks but is third on the depth chart and probably not familiar enough with the new offense because the third-string QB doesn't get that many reps.

UTAH (1-0) AT OREGON (1-0)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

TV: KJZZ (tape delayed at 4 p.m.)

Radio: KALL 910 AM

E-mail: lham@desnews.com