The snow cleared, the ground thawed and Utah is set to take it’s second crack at a home opener this weekend against Arizona State. The Utes were slated to host Oregon State last weekend, but the game was rescheduled due to unsafe weather conditions.
The Sun Devils did play last Saturday, beating New Mexico. That result, plus a competitive game against the University of Victoria, has helped erase some of the memory of a triple-digit loss to Cal in ASU’s PAC opener.
“I think we’re a better team than the Cal result indicates,” said ASU coach Gary Lane.
“We know Utah’s tough at home and we have to really be on our best game to beat Utah. We’ve never beaten Utah, so traveling there and playing in 44 degrees and trying to get a win is going to be a challenge.”
One of the biggest aspects of the challenge will be dealing with Utah’s large group of forwards. From Mike Shepherd in the front row to John Cullen at No. 8, the Ute pack is full of big, hard players.
“If you don’t tackle these guys, they’re going to run all over you. So the first thing to obviously do is to prepare your team to tackle at a high level. They have some big boys, but they can’t run without their feet,” said Lane, who says Utah’s backs are just as dangerous.
“Utah have got a big squad and they’ve got good backs. I think the game will be can our backs play against their backs. Utah seems to be able to bang it up when they need to bang it up and move it wide when they need to. Obviously, we’ve got to neutralize that.”
For Utah, the focus will be getting into a rhythm and transforming from a group of talented individuals into a cohesive team.
“We need to improve our continuity. We’ve got a lot of new players this year, and just working together and getting on the same page is really important,” said Utah captain Mike Juszczak.
“We also have to work on our fitness. Against Life, we were just not in good enough shape and there’s no excuse to not be fit. The guys have really taken it on their own as a challenge to get themselves in good shape since then.”
Saturday will be Utah’s first home game since joining the PAC conference, and the Utes are looking forward to the beginning of the new venture.
“It definitely adds a little bit of excitement,” said Juszczak. “The guys are looking forward to not having to travel on a long bus trip, drive six hours, stay in a hotel and get up and travel a few more hours. It’ll be nice to sleep in our own beds and get up and play. And the whole team is just excited about the whole PAC thing and creating some new rivalries.”