Utes Fully Focused On Big Season Opener Against Florida
SALT LAKE CITY- The week we all thought would never come is finally here. The #7 Utes will be flying out to Gainesville later this week to take on the Florida Gators in the Swamp. Perhaps the biggest season-opener for Utah football since their debut at the Big House in 2008.
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Head coach Kyle Whittingham had his first press conference of the 2022 season August 29th to breakdown what can be expected from his team this year.
Looking Forward To A Challenge
Unlike 2008, nobody should be surprised by Utah. This isn’t a team coming out from nowhere, this is a team that pundits are fully watching and expect to be good in 2022. However, that fact doesn’t make the Utes’ trip down to the Swamp any less imposing. Whittingham acknowledged the challenge his team has signed up for to start what could be program-changing season and says they are excited to take it on.
“We are looking forward to the trip down to Gainesville,” Whittingham opened his weekly press conference with. “It will be a great opportunity for our football team. Florida is an incredibly talented team with a lot of really good players. They are fast, athletic. It will be a challenge for us and will take our best effort to come and try to get the win.”
According to Whittingham the concentration and preparation since January has been really good from his 2022 team, noting that’s usually the case with more veteran groups.
“Our guys have worked hard through fall camp,” Whittingham said. “Even back at the start of the year in January. It’s been a solid work-ethic all through the phases and we came out of fall camp really healthy which is a big plus. We didn’t have much live work in fall camp relative to other years. In 2019 we had a very veteran team come in where we didn’t have to do a lot of live work and that was the same of course this year. Consequently, we came out in good shape. We’ll find out where we are 7 p.m. Saturday.”
Whittingham says playing in the Swamp might be the most hostile environment he has ever taken a team into. Utah has tried as much as they can to replicate what they may encounter at the Swamp, but only time will tell if it’s enough and the team is actually where everyone thinks they are.
“This may be the most hostile,” Whittingham said. “I mean, it’s the first game of the year, a night game, new coaching staff. A lot of excitement. We are sure that place is going to be very loud and difficult to play in. We’ve taken every measure that we can to try and replicate that both noise-wise and temperature-wise. We’ll see what happens. We expect it. They are right on top of you. In the Swamp they are right on top of you and the crowd is a big factor.”
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges the Utes face in Florida is their quarterback. Described as an athletic specimen that has just needed some polishing, Anthony Richardson truly has all of the tools to be a great passer and runner at the position. Whittingham acknowledges Richardson will be tough for his defense to contain and a true test of where they stand right out of the gate.
“The quarterback is outstanding,” Whittingham said. “There is not a big body of work, but some people are projecting him as a top-10 pick in the Draft and so he’s obviously got a ton of ability. Big kid, 6’4″, 240 pounds and really fast so he’s going to be a handful for us.”
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Whittingham continued that Richardson possesses a unique combination of size and speed that makes him deadly if he gets loose and acknowledged defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley will be earning his paycheck scheming for the talented quarterback.
“It changes a lot because you have to account for the QB run game essentially every single down. The guy reportedly has 4.3 speed which at his size is incredible. That’s Cam Newton-ish kind of numbers with his physical stature and his ability to run. That’s someone coach Scalley and the defense is well-aware of and that’s got to be taken into account in virtually everything they do.”
The Florida Pipeline
This is a rare opportunity for the Utes to travel to an area they’ve been experiencing a recent uptick in recruiting from. Obviously since joining the Pac-12 Utah has had ample opportunity to showcase what they are doing in California and occasionally Texas, but Florida is more off-the-beaten path for the Utes. Whittingham says getting to play in an area they have been recruiting heavily recently was a factor in setting the initial series up.
“We will continue to recruit that area,” Whittingham said. “We’ve had a lot of success with those guys- Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley. Those guys were major contributors for us so yes, that was one of the reasons for the series.”
This will not be the first time coach Whittingham and the Utes have encountered new Florida head coach Billy Napier. Hired from the University of Louisiana during the off-season, Napier also had a stop at Arizona State in 2017 as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Whittingham was very complimentary of Napier’s abilities and what he will be bringing to the Gators ahead of their matchup this weekend.
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“Outstanding young coach,” Whittingham said. “A lot of energy. [ASU] beat us pretty handily- 30-10. They took it to us and he’s got a lot of- schematically on offense he’s very innovative.”
Looking At Florida’s Strengths
Whittingham listed a few areas of strength for the Gators when asked about their most talented position group noting it was pretty hard to say which group is ultimately the best.
“First of all, their receiving corps is really big,” Whittingham said. “They are 6’5″, 6’4″, 6’3″ almost across the board. The Pearsall kid is out apparently, but they have a big receiving corps, a running back- the transfer that came in from Layfette. The d-line, they have a good d-line, but I don’t know that you can say which is the most talented group because they are all very talented.”
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