Utah Notes: Weddle gets tough task

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He did it to Jovon Bouknight. He did it to Todd Watkins. And he did it to Calvin Johnson.

Now, Utah's Eric Weddle wants to do it to Alex Watson.

The senior safety is expected to draw a good deal of man-to-man coverage against the dangerous Northern Arizona receiver when the Utes play host to the Lumberjacks in their home opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday - and he wants to shut him down the way he shut down all of those other receivers at the end of last season.

"Especially when he talks s--- about us, too," Weddle said.

Weddle said teammate Steve Tate heard a radio interview in which Watson "said we're a suspect group" after the Utes were abused for 318 passing yards in a season-opening loss at UCLA.

Meanwhile, Watson was catching 12 passes for 214 yards and two long touchdown passes to help keep NAU close for much of a 35-14 loss at No. 24 Arizona State. He's a diminutive speedster and virtually the only serious NAU offensive threat.

"It's going to be fun," Weddle said. "Shut him down, and you have a good shot at winning the game."

The Utes won three of their last four games last season after moving Weddle from safety back to cornerback, the position at which he started his college career.

He smothered Wyoming's Bouknight, Brigham Young's Watkins and Georgia Tech's Johnson, holding them to eight catches and 84 yards between them, and had trouble only with the much bigger Hank Baskett of New Mexico.

"A defensive coordinator's most valuable asset is a shut-down corner," coach Kyle Whittingham said, "and that's what he is."

Local connections

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen was the assistant head coach at NAU from 1995-96, before joining the Utes for the first time. And when he was there, he coached current Utah graduate assistant Dan Finn, who was a team captain and first-team All-American.

"I loved my time up there," Andersen said. "Had a lot of fun."

He's not the only coach familiar with the other team, however. NAU's Bill Smith coaches the defensive line, but worked with both Andersen and Whittingham at Utah from 1990-97.

Tough schedule

Having already lost to Arizona State, the Lumberjacks are the only Division I-AA team in the country that opens the season with back-to-back games against teams that won bowl games last season.

Time is of the essence

While the new rules designed to shorten the game have annoyed some coaches and could help his opponent this weekend, Whittingham is most assuredly a fan. "It's good for the game," he said.

Whittingham believes college games were growing far too long, and doesn't mind losing perhaps a dozen plays per game to the new rules - even if some believe that could aid underdog teams like NAU by giving them fewer plays to defend against more powerful opponents.

The new rules call for the game clock to begin when the ball is kicked on a kickoff, not when the receiving team touches it, and when the ball is marked ready for play on a change of possession, rather than when it is snapped. As a result, the Utes played their opener in 3 hours, 7 minutes. Only three times in the previous three seasons did they play a game in less time.

Shutting It Down

The Utes were 3-1 at the end of last season when safety Eric Weddle started at cornerback and defended the other team's top receiver:

Receiver Team Stats Result

Calvin Johnson Georgia Tech 2-19-0 W, 38-10

Todd Watkins BYU 2-22-1 W, 41-34 (OT)

Hank Baskett New Mexico 8-135-1 L, 31-27

Jovon Bouknight Wyoming 4-43-0 W, 43-13

Eric Weddle

No. Arizona at Utah

SATURDAY, 6 p.m., mtn.