Here at VTF we like to conduct interviews with media types and fellow bloggers to glean insights regarding the upcoming opponent. While those people provide some great insights, sometimes it’s fun to hear from the fans.
So this season we’re going to get inside the mind of the opposing fan base by having an open conversation with a fan of the opposing team. It’s also an opportunity to prove that fans of opposing teams can have rational conversations and ask honest questions without it getting ugly.
This week I caught up with my old friend Graham Anderson, a dedicated Ute fan who as a child would steal BYU flags from the front porches of his neighbors. Despite this petty larceny, Graham is a decent human being and was kind enough to talk about the Holy War.
Jake Welch, VTF Staff: Alright Graham, in an effort to make sure this doesn’t devolve into a yelling match full of deeply personal and cutting insults, let’s start by having you say something nice about the BYU Football team. I’ll go ahead and say something nice about Utah. Kyle Whittingham is a very handsome man and does a really nice job of giving lots of people the chance to coordinate his offense. He’s a true equal-opportunity employer.
Graham Anderson, Utah Fan: Would you rather do it that way or have Robert Anae for 27 years? I know BYU fans don’t really love Robert Anae, but I actually think the guy was pretty solid and schemed really well for the talent he was working with. He figured out ways to have a pretty potent offense with average-ish skill players, and did so year after year. Sorry…I know it’s strange that my initial response was an ode to Robert Anae, but that’s what I thought of when you “complimented” Kyle for having 14 OC’s in 9 years.
JW: So what you’re saying is the best compliment that you can come up with for BYU...is saying something about an offensive coordinator that hasn’t coached at BYU since 2015. We’re really off to a great start! Let’s talk about the current team. Beyond however many wins Utah has against BYU, what about the 2019 Utes gives you confidence?
GA: Whittingham continues to do a great job at filling the positions that have been good at Utah for a long time….Defensive Line, Secondary, O-Line, and Running Back. The defense might be one of the best Utah has ever had. The front four is extremely deep and the secondary has multiple NFL players. I also think Huntley is getting overlooked. He’s a senior that has started a bunch of games, and played extremely well last year until he got hurt. I’m never going to expect the Utah offense to be a top 10 offense in the country, but I think between the depth at running back and Huntley at QB, we should be at least competent offensively.
JW: Speaking of the offense, do you think Andy Ludwig making his return to SLC will be a big boost for the offense? I thought Troy Taylor was going bring Eric Taylor levels of magic to the Utah offense but things never really materialized. Is Ludwig going to be the guy that sticks?
GA: First of all, don’t you dare talk about Coach Eric Taylor that way. He is his own class, and even speaking Troy Taylor’s name in the same sentence is offensive. As for Ludwig, I think we already know who/what he is, right? He’s a pretty good offensive coordinator. There’s a reason why he always has an OC gig (since 1997), but has never been a head coach. Utah fans kind of chased him out of town in ’08, even though he’d done a pretty decent job, but I think because of the hot mess of the OC spot for the last 10 years we’re strangely welcoming him back with open arms. I also think Utah fans have become more content with who we are, which is, not Oklahoma. We do defense and special teams, and we have a chance to be really good if we just have a competent offense. I don’t think we’re anticipating a “big boost”, but I think we feel safe that he’s going to at least be good enough.
JW: So after their fan base soured on a decent coach, they are welcoming him back into town after he’s had relative success at other schools? This sounds like a lot like your favorite Cougar, Robert Anae.
Let’s get back to some Friday Night Lights parallels because we have to give the people what they want. Is Zach Moss going to show up on Thursday looking like Smash Williams before his season two knee trauma? Or will an alleged hand injury leave him with the same productivity as post-Mexico bender Tim Riggins?
GA: I knew I was on to something with all that Robert Anae talk!
It’s hard for me to describe the joy I just felt when I thought about Riggins in Mexico. How ridiculous was that storyline? And speaking of Smash, I will take to my grave that the greatest episode in the series was when he got into college and made the team. The tryout scene when he gets the pep talk from Coach Taylor, crushes the tryout, and then tells his mom that he got in….I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.
JW: I just watched that very episode with my wife three days ago and I cried like a kid watching Bambi.
GA: The first time I watched that episode, I was on a middle seat flying home to Utah from New York, and I literally had tears coming down my face for 15 solid minutes. I’m not ashamed.
JW: Nor should you be! Nothing hits the feels quite like Friday Night Lights.
Anyway back to Zach Moss. Do you feel like he’s ready to roll? It seems to be anybody’s guess as the press have been locked out of camp.
GA: Whitt is really unpredictable with stuff like this. Sometimes he is super secretive because the guy is fine and he wants the opposing team to second guess it, and sometimes the guy is a total mess, and he’s trying to make them think he may play. I seriously have no idea other than Zach Moss has one of the most incredible human bodies I’ve ever seen in my life. The comfort in the whole situation is that Utah is pretty deep at the position. Moss is an amazing player, but I don’t think the offensive completely falls apart without him. There are three other guys that could get carries, and that’s not to mention Huntley being able to carry some of the rushing load (although I doubt they’ll do much of that this week to keep him healthy).
JW: It definitely seems like Kyle’s main objective has always been to run the ball and he’ll fill the stable with guys who can do that. Is there any position that you’re feeling less than great about?
GA: Wide receiver. Look, we’ve got some dudes that can make some plays, but it’s probably the position group with the fewest number of potential NFL players. Dixon could have a big year, and Covey is awesome (but limited and coming off a major injury), but they’re collectively just an okay group. Linebacker is thin but they’ve always figured out ways to work around that and only have 1 or 2 LB’s out there at a time.
JW: I‘m sure BYU fans will be tickled to see their favorite former son Francis Bernard doing his thing at LB. Lots of cheers coming his way for certain.
Is there any apprehension with all of the pre-season hype being thrust upon the Utes? I started out as Pac-12 South favorites and now it’s reaching “playoff contender” status. What needs to happen for it to be a successful season?
GA: The playoff talk is ridiculous. I understand why the hype is happening….we were pretty good last year, did so with our QB and RB out half the year, and the majority of the team is coming back. In addition, it’s more fun for a writer or commentator to put some wild card Utah team in there rather than Ohio State or Michigan or Washington again. Whittingham teams have never been good frontrunners. He has always done far better when slowly working his way up the standings throughout the year. Whenever we start with hype we end up getting to #5 in the nation 4 weeks in (after playing nobody), Gameday hypes up our first big game against TCU or Boise State, and then we get blown out by 90. We play too many good teams throughout the year for me to think we’re going to run the table or even win 10 regular season games. To me, a successful season in the Pac-12 is one where we have a shot to play in the Pac-12 title game, which means we have a shot at a Rose Bowl. This year looks like a pretty good year to make that kind of a run, but any Utah fan sitting there thinking we’re going to play Clemson in a playoff game is setting themselves up for disappointment.
JW: Managing expectations seems to be a difficult thing for both BYU and Utah fans. If the Cougars were to win their first two games a bunch of fans would be asking “WELL WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR NATIONAL TITLE HOPES? WILL ZACH WILSON LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL?” Optimism is great but mine will forever be an extremely cautious optimism.
GA: If we were in Alabama cheering for those two teams I would feel differently, but it’s extremely unlikely that either of our teams are going to be perennial national powers. That’s why I’m saying for Utah, being a Top 25 team with a winning record every year is actually a pretty good deal. Maybe we make a Rose Bowl once every 10-15 years, and maybe we get lucky with just the right senior class and we make a run one year. Any expectations outside of that make me really uncomfortable. What’s cool for Utah right now is that this year could be that year.
JW: It seems like Utah always plays on a Thursday night the first first week of the season. Based on my casual viewing of those games, Utah always comes out a little flat in the first half but then turns in on in the second. Any concerns about a slow start tomorrow?
GA: Absolutely! I 100% agree that Utah has always been a slow starter, especially offensively. And my biggest concern is that we aren’t playing a Division I-AA team….or are we? Hey-o!
JW: Hilarious. Ok let’s wrap this up before you say something regrettable. What’s your score prediction for the game?
GA: If these teams played 10 times under these circumstances, Utah probably wins….7 times, right? Within those ten games you have a variety of different scenarios…Utah with a mega-blowout, BYU with a 10-point win, Utah with a ho-hum win by 2 TD’s, BYU with a super close game win, etc. etc. The most likely scenario that happens multiple times within those ten games is Utah in a relatively close, low scoring game. Weird game with a bunch of field goals, really bad offense on both sides, Utah leads most of the game, but never blows it open. Cougs muck up the game with some unique schemes on both sides (Sitake has proved that he knows how to mess with Whittingham’s systems), but can’t seem to really light it up offensively. Utah’s D and Special Teams wins the field position battle and gets a big play or two. Utah – 18, BYU - 10
JW: Utah wins it with six field goals? Sounds like a real barn burner. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that you’re wrong and both teams can come out and play somewhat competent football.
GA: Was last year’s high scoring affair “competent football”?
JW: Hey for one half of the game things were looking...you know what I don’t want to talk about it. May the most righteous team win tomorrow night.
Thanks again to Graham for keeping it amicable and hopefully all of you will do the same. Go Gougs!