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It's not a tuneup. It's not a scrimmage. It's not a chance to figure things out.
Even though the Utes will find themselves heavily favored on Thursday night in their season-opener against Southern Utah, try telling the coaches that. They aren't talking about how much backups will play or how much they'll try to save key players' bodies.
Against the Thunderbirds, that would be a dangerous way of thinking, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said.
"Southern Utah has all of our respect and all of our attention," he said. "They were the Big Sky champs last year. They had Utah State beat, but gave up a punt return in the fourth quarter. They're very good on offense. They're very well-coached."
To be sure, the T-birds are coming off their best season, with an 8-4 record. They also sent three players from their conference title-winning team to NFL rosters, by far the most in their history.
They did indeed give the Aggies a run for their money in a 12-9 loss. It was the type of game that haunts many FBS programs that face lower-tier FCS teams in nonconference play. Though the games are typically considered a cash-for-a-win agreement for the more powerful FBS teams, last year FCS teams got nine wins against FBS programs. Perhaps most notably, the Big Sky's Portland State knocked off Washington State in Pullman, though the Cougars would go on to a nine-win season.
At the same time, much has changed for SUU. Coach Ed Lamb left to become a coordinator at BYU, and assistant Demario Warren took over. Without standouts such as safety Miles Killebrew and defensive end James Cowser, who went to the NFL, the T-birds lose a great portion of what made their defense dominant (a Big Sky-best 20.8 ppg allowed).
With a second-week game against rival BYU and the Pac-12 debut against USC, it's worth wondering if the Utes will be reticent to showcase all their weapons in the season opener. The coaching staff acknowledged after the fact that they held back in the first three weeks of the season last year before unloading against Oregon in a 62-20 stomping in the Pac-12 opener.
Still, with a retooled offense of their own, the Utes say they aren't taking SUU for granted in the week leading up to the season opener. Many of the factors that led SUU to success last year are still present, Roderick said.
"Ed Lamb did an awesome job recruiting there, and Demario is doing a great job," he said. "They're longer and bigger than most FCS teams. We're not going to hold anything back we're going to run our offense."
The Utes are 6-0 against the FCS under coach Kyle Whittingham. The closest game in that span was a 37-21 win over Weber State in 2008.
Utah commit shines on ESPNU
Those looking ahead to the Utah quarterback battles of the future got a dose of optimism by tuning into ESPNU on Saturday.
Utah-committed quarterback Jason Shelley led Frisco (Texas) Lone Star to a nationally televised 62-14 thrashing of the team's crosstown rival, Frisco Heritage. Shelley threw for 489 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two more scores.
The 12th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country by 247Sports committed to Utah last month after a junior season in which he accounted for more than 5,300 yards passing and running with 60 touchdowns. Playing in the new practice facility of the Dallas Cowboys, Shelley was apparently unfazed.
"I didn't have jitters about playing in The Star," he told the Dallas Morning News. "The Star was just another stadium for us."
One of his teammates also got on the Utes' radar in the game. After catching 14 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, 5-foot-9 receiver Jaylen Dixon tweeted after the game that he received an offer from Utah. Dixon is a three-star receiver on 247 Sports, but his performance impressed enough to get owner Jerry Jones to joke that he should suit up for the Cowboys, according to the Morning News.
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Southern Utah at Utah
P Thursday, 6 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks