No. 6 Weber State aims to ‘make something happen’ in opener at No. 24 Utah
Weber State is no stranger to Power 5 road games under Jay Hill. That continues Thursday when the No. 6 (FCS) Wildcats open the fall 2021 season with a 5:30 p.m. kickoff at No. 24 (FBS) Utah.
Whether it’s a 41-10 loss, like the last time WSU played at Utah in 2018, or leading 20-17 after three quarters like at Cal in 2017, Hill’s message before the game always includes something like the following:
“Cherish the moment. Go in there and let it rip. You don’t have very many of these opportunities so they’ve got to take advantage of them. You go in there scared and you play like crap,” Hill said. “Let it rip, have fun, cherish it and make something happen that you’ll remember.”
Rashid Shaheed made some memories in that Cal game, catching four passes for 149 yards and one long touchdown. He’s looking forward to the kind of atmosphere a game at Utah will bring — especially now that expansion of the south end zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium fully encloses the venue’s structure around the field and boosts capacity nearly 6,000 seats to 51,444.
“They have a lot of fans, student section’s always crazy and talk a little trash,” the senior receiver said. “It gets very loud and with the new seating, I’m sure it’s even going to be louder, it will box in the noise so it can’t escape. It’s going to be rowdy but we just have to stay focused on our game.
“It gets you fired up knowing that the fans are into it. You just can’t let it distract you, but if you handle it the right way it’s always a fun experience.”
Shaheed said his team needs to “just be ready for the moment.” Senior center Ben Bos says there’s no reason the Wildcats should be intimidated.
“We’re all playing the same game, so just go out there and play our best game,” Bos said.
Weber State assuredly expects things to go better than they did at Utah in 2018 when, despite taking a 10-0 lead early, WSU only gained 59 net yards.
“We were a very young team. Going into this season, we’re a lot more veteran, a lot more experienced, and our offense will be a lot more explosive than we were that season,” Shaheed said. “The coaches will have faith in us to make big plays this season.”
Hill agreed, saying WSU is more veteran than in 2018 and Utah a little less so.
“I don’t think (Utah is) any less talented than they’ve ever been; in fact, I hear they’re as talented as ever,” Hill said. “But they don’t have the guys who were in the program as long as they had been in 2018. And we have a lot more starters who have a ton of games under their belts. So I expect our guys to go in there and handle the situation well.”
One place Utah is definitely veteran: starting quarterback, where fifth-year senior and Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer will be at the helm.
Brewer played in 44 games at Baylor, throwing 1,304 pass attempts for 9,700 yards. He gives Utah something at QB that seems a little more than the Utes are used to.
Hill said his staff is mostly watching film on Utah’s scheme, but they did seek out plenty of tape on Brewer.
“For sure a bunch (of film) on the quarterback. We wanted to see what his arm strength was like, and his mobility, and what he’s all about — some of the strengths he showed at Baylor,” Hill said.
Brewer will have senior Theo Howard to throw to. He was a moderately used receiver at UCLA for three seasons before transferring to Oklahoma and being less targeted there last season. But he’s played in 40 games, and juniors Solomon Enis and Britain Covey have 33 games each. It’s an experienced group of pass-catchers that should help the offense as they figure out who will be taking handoffs.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has hinted this week that several offensive linemen in the two-deep being unavailable, though he hasn’t named which guys will be out Thursday.
Defensively, Utah plays almost exactly like Weber State: a 4-3 scheme with plenty of man coverage. Since the Utes usually have multiple NFL-level guys in the secondary and sometimes on the defensive line, it usually works well for Whittingham’s squad.
Experience-wise, Utah will be led by defensive end Mika Tafua, and tackles Viane Moala (a Hawaii transfer) and Devin Kaufusi (a BYU transfer), among others.
That’s to say nothing of middle linebacker Devin Lloyd, who will be impossible to miss Thursday. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Lloyd will be in on every play. In his last full season in 2019, he totaled 91 tackles, 11 for loss including 6.5 sacks, and returned one interception 64 yards for a touchdown.
Utah leads the all-time series 5-0. The closest game was a 37-21 affair in 2008.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
For entertainment purposes, betting lines for this game range anywhere from Utah by 28.5 to 34.5 (many books don’t take bets on FBS vs. FCS games). Combining the 34.5-point spread with an over/under of 46.5, that suggests a score of about 41-6.
In Jeff Sagarin‘s comprehensive Division I football rating system, he ranks Utah 20th nationally and Weber State 118th (ahead of 19 FBS teams). Using his rating scores and giving Utah 2.57 points for home-field advantage, his system predicts a Utah win of 27 points.
TV & RADIO
The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, with Roxy Bernstein and Lincoln Kennedy on the call.
Weber State’s radio call will be carried on 103.1 FM in Utah, or online at 1031thewave.com, with Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal calling the action. Utah’s radio call is on ESPN 700 AM (espn700sports.com) with Bill Riley and Scott Mitchell.