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Utes get to practice in new facility

Special permit keeps them dry for a day; Rome pulls the plug

Because the Utes will play Saturday night at San Diego State, where coach Urban Meyer anticipates dry weather, the coach treated his football team to an indoor workout Thursday, instead of the scheduled practice in the stadium, which would have concluded during a light hailstorm.

He got a special permit to practice in the yet-unfinished Eccles indoor practice facility, where plastic still covers some windows, and there are other things to be finished in the construction.

"It's as nice as I've seen," said Meyer about the facility, for which he had lobbied in his offseason contract-extension negotiation.

With much of the interior still to be completed, space was at a premium, but the Utes were still able to practice some kicking, and Meyer wanted his quarterbacks and receivers, especially, to be able to pitch and catch in a dry environment.

BOSTON CASUALTY: Quarterback Alex Smith was to have appeared on "The Jungle" radio show with Jim Rome on KALL AM 700 at mid-day Thursday. But show officials informed sports information director Liz Abel that, with all the calls they were getting from Red Sox fans after their first World Series championship since 1918, Smith would be bumped. Smith, an outside candidate for Heisman Trophy recognition, does not do interviews on Thursday so he can concentrate on school and football but made an exception for the Rome show—and then was snubbed.

HOME SWEET HOME: It's common knowledge that Smith is from the San Diego area. But two of his teammates are also looking forward to being home Saturday night, and both defensive back Shaun Harper and punter/kickoff man Matt Kovacevich have already won games and scored in Qualcomm Stadium.

Both won CIF sectional championships on that field when they were in high school, Harper at Mission Bay High and Kovacevich at El Camino High in Oceanside, about 40 miles north. Harper scored a touchdown on a 60-yard end-around play at Qualcomm, and Kovacevich kicked a field goal that tied a game there.

"It's going to be exciting," said Kovacevich about going home and playing in front of family and friends. And his former coach. He played two years at Palomar Junior College, the first under current SDSU coach Tom Craft, who didn't recruit him for the Aztecs. He's in "a better situation" now as the Utes, 7-0, 3-0 in the Mountain West Conference going into Saturday's 7 p.m. MDT game against the 2-5, 0-3 Aztecs.

If the Utes make the opening kickoff Saturday, Kovacevich, doing those chores with Bryan Borreson out due to a groin injury, expects his excitement could make him put the ball deep.

Harper is coming off his first collegiate touchdown, scored last week after Utah Man Billy Kinsey blocked a UNLV punt. Harper recovered the loose ball in the end zone in a 63-28 win. The Aztecs did recruit Harper, but he wanted to get away from home and is glad he came to Utah, which is No. 6 in the BCS standings this week.

UTES ILLUSTRATED: Ute fans can get a good look at one of Meyer's offensive plays, a reverse to receiver Steve Savoy, in the Sports Illustrated out this week. It has photos and explanations of how the play is run, and there's a story about Meyer and the Utah offense, "Why Utah's Urban Meyer is a Hot Commodity." However, SI ran a photo of defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, who's reportedly not mentioned, and none of Meyer, apparently mistaking the two coaches, who don't look much alike.

Also, ESPN did a Game Day feature on the U. to air Saturday, and the Chicago Tribune is expected to be in Utah to chronicle the Utes next week.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com