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Weber State football takes another crack at deep, talented Utah

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Sep 15, 2023

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State's Rashid Shaheed (22) returns a kickoff for a touchdown in the first half against Utah on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

After a successful road trip and double-digit win at Northern Iowa, Weber State football gets a bus ride to face Utah for a noon kick Saturday in Salt Lake City.

The No. 12 (FBS) Utes get a relative breather after opening with Florida and Baylor, while the No. 9 Wildcats (FCS) will face their stiffest test of the season (while pocketing $600,000 for the athletic department).

As long as health remains intact, one game against an FBS opponent is usually a no-lose proposition for FCS teams. A loss doesn’t hurt the playoff resume but a win provides a significant boost — though a consistently ranked Power Five opponent like Utah is as tough as it gets for an FCS team like Weber State.

WSU has remained mostly healthy through two weeks. Senior cornerback Marque Collins was banged up at Northern Iowa and his status is unknown. At defensive tackle, Steven Bryant got his first action (and some QB pressure) against UNI while Zeke Birch remains questionable.

Utah has suffered the loss of running back Micah Bernard, though there’s plenty of talent there in former quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson (No. 3, 144 yards, 6 yards per carry) and the smaller Jaylon Glover (No. 1).

MEET THE UTES

Speaking of injuries, Utah’s incumbent starting quarterback Cam Rising is still questionable after tearing his ACL nine months ago — though there’s a better possibility than ever that he takes his first snaps this week before the Utes begin their final season in the Pac-12.

Either way, the bulk of the snaps will likely go to dynamic redshirt freshman Nate Johnson (No. 13), who engineered a fourth-quarter comeback last week at Baylor and supplanted Bryson Barnes as this week’s expected starter. Johnson was 6 of 7 for 82 passing yards and ran for 32 yards on 11 carries to spark the comeback. He also rushed for 45 yards on six carries against Florida.

Freshman slot receiver Mikey Matthews (No. 81) is the go-to pass catcher (eight receptions, 82 yards) while Money Parks (No. 10) is the team’s home-run threat (four receptions, 103 yards).

Utah native Levani Damuni (also No. 3) has been a boon after transferring from Stanford. The linebacker leads the team with 17 tackles. Safety Cole Bishop (No. 8) is a playmaker; he has 15 tackles, including three for loss and one sack, with one interception and one forced fumble so far this season.

TEAM VS. TEAM METRICS

Through two games, Weber State is averaging 34.5 points and 348 yards per game, averaging 5.8 yards per play. Defensively, WSU gives up 13.5 points and 317 yards per game on a 4.4 yards-per-play average.

Utah averages 22 points on 323.5 yards per game, averaging 5.1 yards per play. Defensively, the Utes are good as always, allowing an average of 12 points per game on 342.5 yards and a 5.6 yards-per-play average, grabbing three defensive interceptions in two games.

ODDS & PREDICTIONS

Jeff Sagarin ranks Weber State No. 5 in FCS (up six spots) and No. 100 (up 26 spots) in all of Division I (FBS and FCS). Utah is ranked No. 17. Including accounting for home-field advantage, his formula favors Utah by 22 points.

Bill Connelly ranks Weber State at No. 5 in FCS (up four). His formula favors Utah, predicting a 40-15 margin at 93% probability.

D Ratings predicts a Utah victory by a score of 39-15 at 95% probability.

WEATHER

It’s set to be a warm, sunny September afternoon in Salt Lake City. At noon kickoff, there’s a forecasted temperature of 76 degrees that will rise to about 82 by game’s end.

TV & RADIO

The game will air on Pac-12 Network with Roxy Bernstein and Lincoln Kennedy on the call.

Weber State’s radio broadcast, with Tony Parks and Jerry Graybeal, will air on 103.1 FM and stream at www.1031thewave.com.

Utah’s radio broadcast is on 700 AM and www.espn700sports.com with Bill Riley, Scott Mitchell and Stevenson Sylvester on the call.

ALL-TIME SERIES

Utah leads the all-time series 6-0. This seventh meeting with be the fourth in the last 11 years. In the last meeting, 2021, Weber State led 7-3 during a long weather delay on a Rashid Shaheed kick-return touchdown and Utah went on to win 40-17.

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