Utah football: King of strategy

The Utah Utes expect Utah State coach Gary Andersen, their ex-defensive coordinator, to keep them guessing.
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As an offensive lineman, Utah's Zane Beadles didn't have that much one-on-one interaction with former defensive coordinator Gary Andersen.

He knew him best while on the practice field, deciphering what his defensive schemes were.

"I remember he'd come up with some blitzes that would have my head spinning," he said.

He expects his head will be spinning a few more times come Thursday when Utah and Utah State kick off the 2009 football season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

If there is one advantage the Aggies have over the Utes, it is Andersen and his intimate knowledge of the Utes' system and the players' personalities.

Utah's players, many of whom still communicate on a regular basis with their former defensive coordinator, haven't spoken to him recently to keep him from "messing with their minds," as linebacker Stevenson Sylvester joked.

However, they can't delete from his mind what he already knows about the Utes, which could be enough to make Thursday's game a little more entertaining than if Andersen weren't on the sidelines. At times, the coaching could be more of a chess match of sorts, as Andersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham try to outthink one another based on their familiarity. Give the edge there to the Aggies.

"From a personnel standpoint, he knows our personnel inside and out, and we just know their personnel from playing the last few years," Whittingham said.

Andersen, who was Utah's defensive coordinator for the last four seasons, not only coached many of the players he'll face Thursday, but also recruited them.

"He is like a father figure to me, I look up to him like that," Sylvester said. "Coming from high school, you don't really know much, you just run out there and hit people. Coach 'A' taught be about technique and he taught me about life. I grew up with him out here. It was a family-type relationship we built."

The Utes believe Andersen will stick to the family traits on Thursday, too, at least in the defensive schemes. Andersen used the same system Whittingham used when he was the defensive coordinator, which is the same basic system current defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake will employ. At least the Utes will have that shared similarity, although they expect both sides will have some surprises.

"I'm just knowing he is going to throw something at us," Beadles said. "He is a great schemer and a guy who comes up with some great blitzes."

Andersen has a great knack for finding a team's weakness and exploiting it, just as he did in the Sugar Bowl when he found Alabama's weaknesses, which the Utes used to sack Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson eight times. Having been the benefactors of his insight, the Utes expect Andersen might know a thing or two about them he'll use to his advantage.

"I don't know what he is going to do, but he's a mastermind and a football genius," Sylvester said. "I know how he works and it's week by week. I know all he has been doing is planning for us, this week. He'll have something for us; I don't know exactly what it is going to be."

Still, even if he knows the Utes' tendencies and personalities, how much of a difference can it make come Thursday night? The Utes are a ranked team with proven talent while the Aggies are rebuilding and in a transition mode. Could a little insider knowledge lead to an upset? Beadles doesn't think so."I know he is a great coach, but I'm confident in our team and the O-line and our offense, and I know the defense is going to get it done," Beadles said. "I'm not scared, at all."


Utah State at Utah

At Rice-Eccles Stadium, Thursday, 7 p.m. TV » The Mtn.