It hardly seems like a year since Florida and Utah played.
Then again, it seems like more than a year since Florida played a football game.
The grind begins with a rare Thursday game for the Gators, although what else would we expect? Billy Napier’s Florida team played on a Friday, mostly Saturdays and a Sunday in his first year.
What’s next, a Tuesday game against a MAC team?
Well, look at it this way – your first Saturday of college football season is open for anything you want to do.
Let’s explore what to expect from a true road opener, only the third one in more than three decades.
The latest Dooley’s Dozen offers up 12 things you need to know about the Utah Utes.
The quarterback situation
Kyle Whittingham has been tight-lipped about the status of Cam Rising, who suffered a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl last year. The word inside the Florida camp is that they expect Rising to play, but not at 100%. Rising threw for 216 yards against the Gators while rushing for 91 last year in the Swamp.
Backup Brandon Rose suffered a lacerated kidney during a scrimmage, leaving Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson as the reserves.
The O-line has experience
Florida lost four-fifths of its starting offensive line from last year. Utah did not. Of the five linemen listed as starters, they have combined for 73 starts including 32 by right tackle Sataoa Laumea, a preseason All-Pac-12 pick. Another all-conference lineman is left guard Keaton Bills.
The only starter making his first start will be freshman left tackle Spencer Fano.
Brant Kuithe is a problem
Utah lists two starters at tight end and they are both seniors. But we all know that the guy to watch is Kuithe, who blew out his knee early last season and that forced him to return for another season. Against Florida last year, he caught seven passes for 105 yards and a score.
The defense has experience, too
You may be getting tired of reading this, but Utah’s defense is loaded with experience with only one player starting his first game. That includes tackle Junior Tafuna, who has 25 starts in 27 games, and linebacker Karene Reid with 20 starts in 24 games.
About this stadium
Rice-Eccles Stadium is a tough place to play and the home win streak is at 14 straight. The stadium was named for Robert Rice, an alumni who donated $1 million for a renovation in 1971, and Spencer Eccles, who donated money for the new stadium (the old one was demolished after the 1997 season).
By SEC standards, it’s kind of small
Only Vanderbilt has a smaller stadium than the capacity of 53,609 for Rice-Eccles. The stadium would rank 89th among all of the stadiums used for college football in terms of capacity. It was destroyed and rebuilt for the 2002 Winter Olympics at a cost of $50 million. The surface for the stadium is FieldTurf CoolPlay.
Whit’s record is impressive
The Utah coach took over for Urban Meyer when the Urbanator left for UF. He has been the coach at Utah for 18 seasons and has a record of 154-74. Utah has won two straight Pac-12 titles and would like to win a third (a fitting farewell to the conference before Utah joins the Big 12) despite being picked by the media to finish behind USC and Washington.
The offense is efficient
The Utes were 11th in the country in points per game last year and one reason was they didn’t kill themselves with penalties. They only committed 4.5 per game (13th in the country), won the turnover battle and were second in the nation behind Georgia in total first downs.
The running back room
Last year, there was a lot of talk about Tavion Thomas, who didn’t do a whole lot and eventually quit the team. This year, Ja’Quinden Jackson is getting his first start, although he averaged 6.8 yards a rush and scored nine TDs in 2022.
Micah Bernard is a big threat out of the backfield and caught five passes against the Gators a year ago.
Watch out for the Bishop
One of the keys to Utah’s defense is safety Cole Bishop, who was named to the preseason All-Pac-12 team. He is one of those safeties who is a heat-seeking missile in support of the run game. You may remember him from last year when he had 12 tackles against Florida.
Mycah Pittman’s journey
Pittman signed with Oregon and played there for three years, then transferred to Florida State and caught 32 passes. He suffered a hip injury and wondered on social media if he’d ever play. But after missing spring, he jumped into the transfer portal and ended up at Utah.
The senior from Tampa is listed as a possible starter (either/or) Thursday night.
The Utes want revenge
We all know how good this team is, especially at home. There is also this – the Utes feel like they gave that game away last year. Rising’s end zone pick was a brutal way to lose a game and this team definitely showed some resilience in coming back to win the Pac-12 despite losing twice in the conference.
All eyes are on these two teams. They know that.
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