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Why Utah will be playing in soccer stadium this week

No matter the venue, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has many memories of past ‘battles’ with San Diego State

A college football game kicks off between Hawaii and San Diego State on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 in Carson, Calif., San Diego State will play in Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., as home field until 2022 season when their new Aztec Stadium opens.
Kyusung Gong, Associated Press

Utah and San Diego State have a long history of playing football against each other dating back decades.

When the two programs were both members of the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference, they faced each other on a yearly basis.

Saturday (5 p.m. MDT, CBSSN) the Utes and Aztecs meet again in Carson, California, at Dignity Health Sports Park, home of the L.A. Galaxy.

So why are they playing at a soccer stadium that seats 27,000?

For years, the Aztecs played at what was known as San Diego Stadium, which also was known as Jack Murphy Stadium and Qualcomm Stadium and SDCCU Stadium.

In 2020, the city of San Diego sold the stadium to San Diego State University and a new stadium is under construction on the site. It is expected to seat 35,000 and host Aztec football, professional soccer and a future NFL team. The facility is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

The NFL’s Chargers played at the stadium in Carson for three seasons.

“If the Chargers can play there,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said this week, “we can play there.”

Of course, it won’t be the same as playing in San Diego. The Aztecs called the stadium in Mission Valley home from 1967-2019. Whittingham played there when he was a BYU linebacker (1978-81) and he coached Utah there numerous times.

Saturday marks the 31st game in the series between the two teams. Utah is 8-6-1 all-time against SDSU when playing in California. The last time the Utes played at San Diego State, in 2010, they won 38-34 by blocking a punt late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning score.

Whittingham said he “absolutely” has plenty of memories playing against SDSU.

“We used to play them, when I was a player, every single year. I remember playing against them and they had Doug Scovil, who was their head coach back in the day.”

Whittingham played in the “Miracle Bowl” in 1980, when BYU completed one of the most improbable comebacks in bowl history, capped by a Hail Mary pass by Jim McMahon as time expired.

“As a player, a lot of memories playing in ‘the Murph’ at the Holiday Bowl, the same stadium,” Whittingham said. “A lot of memories of ‘the Murph’ and a couple of the times that stood out were the San Diego State games. It was a long time ago. When we were in the WAC and the Mountain West, we played against coach (Ted) Tollner’s teams. Coach (Tom) Craft was there for a while. (Current) coach (Brady) Hoke, it’s his second time around. So, yeah. A lot of memories about battles with the Aztecs. A lot of good battles with those guys. They’re a good football team.”


Utah running back Tavion Thomas celebrates his touchdown with offensive lineman Bamidele Olaseni in Salt Lake City.
Utah running back Tavion Thomas, left, celebrates his touchdown with Bamidele Olaseni during opener vs. Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Thomas has shown flashes this season but has also coughed up the ball in each of the Utes’ first two games.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Holding onto the football

Utah running back Tavion Thomas has been impressive when running the ball this season.

However, he fumbled in the Weber State game and also the BYU game.

“It’s a learning process with Tavion. He performed really well in the first game, except the fumble,” Whittingham said. “We think he’s got a big upside. We’ll continue to try to bring him along.”

Running backs coach Kiel McDonald said time will be spent this week in practice with Thomas focusing on ball security.

“We’ve got to get him right. He’s talented. Hard to tackle. We’re going to spend some extra time after practice, pre-practice, whatever it takes,” McDonald said. “We’ve got to be able to hone in and maximize our players. I’ve got to do a better job with that.”

What has Thomas’ demeanor been since the loss to BYU?

“It’s the same thing as everybody’s. We took a tough one against a good opponent. It’s just all about getting better. Maximizing your potential,” McDonald said. “Who we think that he can be. We know he can help this program win games. He’s showing that he can help us. My job is to get him there.”


Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (0) makes a diving interception during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.
Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd makes a diving interception during the Utes’ opener against Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Lloyd has recorded a team-high 25 tackles through two games.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Linebacker play

Linebacker Devin Lloyd has been outstanding in Utah’s first two games. He’s recorded a team-high 25 tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble.

Linebacker Nephi Sewell has 17 tackles with two tackles-for-loss and one forced fumble.

“Devin and Nephi have played well,” said linebackers coach Colton Swan. “Expectations are always high for them and they’ve been meeting expectations. I’m proud of what they’ve done thus far.”

This week, Lloyd, a native of Chula Vista, California, will have about 15 friends and family at Saturday’s game in Carson.


Taste of the rivalry

What did Ute quarterback Charlie Brewer think of his first Utah-BYU game?

“I thought it was a great atmosphere,” he said. “I just wish we could have won it.”