SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - How can the Utah-Utah State series be called a rivalry when the Utes have won the last 12 games and 20 of 22 overall? Because the Aggies are a much improved team. That's how.
"No question we view it as a big challenge," said Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham. "They've recruited well. Their speed and athleticism now as opposed to three or four years ago is night and day."
"You can't really look at the records of the past," added wide receiver Luke Matthews. "You have to just focus on what they're coming with this year, and what we saw against Southern Utah is a great team."
Whittingham and Utah State head coach Gary Andersen go way back. Not as far back as the rivalry goes, which dates back to 1892 and covers 109 games, but still pretty far. They first started coaching together in 1997, and Andersen was Whittingham's defensive coordinator from 2005-2008. They are still friends, but their relationship has changed now that they're also rivals.
"We have a lot of history together," Whittingham said. "We've maintained our relationship. It's not as frequent communication as it was at one point. We still talk to each other several times a month."
"Utah is obviously a talented football team," said Andersen. "They are consistent, they have a consistent winning tradition over the years, the expectations of their program is to obviously win a conference championship, win a lot of football games, get into bowl games and win bowl games. That is something they have been able to be consistent at doing for a number of years."
So is there an advantage of knowing each other so well?
"I don't think there's an advantage either way," Whittingham said. "It's not that big of a factor."
"Our schemes have changed so much that there's not a whole lot of inside stuff that he could give away," added quarterback Jordan Wynn.
Despite their dominance in the series, the Utes know Romney Stadium will be rocking Friday night, and a victory at home would make Utah State's season.
"I love it," said defensive end Joe Kruger. "These kinds of games, I just love them. It's an in-state game and we know everybody. Everyone is just really hyped up."
"It makes it even more fun because you're going into a place where the crowd is going to be hyped," said Matthews. "We'll be ready to play."
"I expect nothing less than a very chaotic environment," said Wynn. "But I've been in some crazy environments before, and I expect this one to be just as loud."
Even though they beat Northern Colorado 41-0, Utah's offense still got off to a slow start. They know they'll need to come out of the gates quicker against the Aggies.
"I saw a stat that we're 18-1 over the last six years when we score first," said Matthews. "So, definitely for an offense that's something we're trying to focus on. We can't go out there and take a quarter to get going, but rather get it going fast."
While Utah is used to playing on big stages in front of national television audiences, Utah State is not. That is why Andersen is eager to see how his team responds to a big-time game like this one on ESPN2.
“For me, to see how a young team will react to a nationally televised game, a packed house, a Pac-12 opponent and all of those rolled up into one to see how this team will handle that atmosphere and handle adversity," Andersen said. "How we can handle the good and how we can handle the bad will be a big statement for where we are as a football team against a quality opponent.”