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Utah sets sights on Utah State

Aggie game will be the first of 3 in 12 days for U.

Utah's 27-24 win over Arizona had its share of challenges. There were a lot of twists and turns as the Utes successfully broke in a new coaching staff and several new starters on both sides of the ball.

"We've talked a lot about dealing with adversity," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We've talked about looking it in the face and beating it. I think we passed the test tonight."

Good thing. There may be more difficult times ahead. Especially, it seems, when looking at the schedule.

Beginning Saturday when Utah State visits Rice-Eccles Stadium (6 p.m., KJZZ, Ch. 14), the Utes enter a difficult stretch that includes three games in 12 days. They'll visit TCU on Sept. 15 and host Air Force on Sept. 22 — both Thursday night tilts will be broadcast on ESPN — games made even more imposing by what happened last weekend.

Both TCU and Air Force got off to noteworthy starts. The Horned Frogs upset No. 7 Oklahoma in Norman and the Falcons flew past Washington in Seattle.

Utah's focus, though, is on the task at hand,

"I won't talk about that until after Utah State," said Whittingham, whose Utes face a USU team with new head coach Brent Guy that has yet to play a game. Last week's opener with Nicholls State of Louisiana was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"In essence it's like having two openers now. It's our second opening game of the season from an opponent standpoint," Whittingham said. "Obviously, we know more about ourselves, a lot more about ourselves than we did prior to Arizona. We don't know anything about Utah State football team as far as scheme and so forth."

Having a 2005 game film of the Utes, Whittingham added, may help USU nullify the notion that a team makes its greatest improvement between its first and second games.

"It's probably a wash," he said.

Besides, it's a rivalry that dates back to 1892 and one Utah takes seriously.

"They get up for this Utah State game," Whittingham said. "It's big. Anytime you play an in-state rival it's an exciting week."

The Utes had little trouble with the Aggies last season in Logan. They built a 41-0 halftime lead and wound up prevailing 48-6.

Quarterback Brian Johnson, who was Alex Smith's backup at the time, saw extensive action in the second half. Johnson threw his first collegiate touchdown pass late in the third quarter when he teamed with John Madsen on a 6-yard throw.

It was Johnson's lone scoring strike at Utah until his starting debut last Friday. He doubled his number of career touchdown throws when he connected with Quinton Ganther on a 47-yard shovel pass.

Battle of the brothers

Utah State (0-0) at Utah (1-0)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14

Radio: Hot Ticket 700AM (S.L.), KVNU 610AM (Logan)


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com