SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The #14 Utah football team has been really good at home this season, winning all four games at Rice-Eccles Stadium, including a 43-42 thriller over USC ten days ago.
But the road has been a different story, losing two of three games away from Utah. That makes this Thursday’s nationally televised game at Washington State that much more challenging.
“Coach always says great teams win on the road,” said defensive end Jonah Elliss. “At home, you have such a big advantage. But on the road, it’s you guys versus the world. So, you’ve got to take the mentality that you’re the underdog.”
“We feel comfortable at home,” added wide receiver DeVaughn Vele. “We have the fan base behind us, but when you’re in a hostile environment, it’s a lot different. Sometimes we let the crowd get into our heads, but if we just stick with the game plan and just execute, we’ll be OK.”
Slow starts doomed the Utes in road losses at Florida and UCLA earlier this season. Despite the fact Washington State has lost three of its last five, the Cougars are 3-1 at home this season, so the Utes know they still have to start strong.
“If we let that get to our heads, that’s when we get punched in the mouth,” Vele said about Washington State’s 1-3 Pac-12 record. “So we approach every game like it’s a championship game, or we approach every game like how we did against USC.”
“They’re a competitive team,” said quarterback Cam Rising. “We just have to make sure we’re preparing the right way and doing everything we can, so that when we’re out there, we’re flying around making plays.”
The Cougars like to play fast. Led by quarterback Cameron Ward, who has thrown for almost 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, Washington State’s offense can be dangerous, as evidenced by the 41 points they they put up on Oregon last month.
“They’re an explosive offense,” Elliss said. “They’re going to try to get us tired, and then try to get big plays off of that. So we’ve got to be conditioned and mentally prepared for that.”
“I think the biggest thing is trying to get after the quarterback,” said defensive lineman Junior Tafuna. “I think that’s what happened in the second hafl against USC. I think that’s what we need to take into this game as a defensive front is to get after the quarterback. He’s the heart of their offense.”
On offense, somebody other than Dalton Kincaid, who is coming off a 16-catch performance against the Trojans, has to step up.
“Obviously Dalton is a hell of a player, so obviously they’re going to game plan around him,” Vele said. “They’re going to make sure that he doesn’t get the touches that he normally would get. So as a receiving group, we’ve got to understand that and exploit those weaknesses. Because if they’re doubling him, then we’re going to have one-on-one matchups or somebody is going to be open.”
“They’ve got to step they’re game up and make sure that they’re getting open,” added Rising. “I think Coach Ludwig has a great plan laid out for them, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Utah and Washington State will kick off at 8:00 p.m. Thursday night in Pullman.