By TONIA ANDRUS
BYU will face its rival in red for the final game of the season. BYU and the University of Utah will both be seeking to finish the season strong and prepare for bowl bids in the showdown at new Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 21.
BYU ended the ’97 season on a bitter note after a 20-14 loss to Utah at Cougar Stadium, giving the Utes a winning record of 6-5. The Cougars have lost four of the last five games against the Utes and will want to settle past grievances.
Utah head coach Ron McBride said his program is in a good position: “We expect to be successful this year.” He said he feels the program is at a point where it has a chance to beat anyone it plays.
Utah returns nine offensive starters, 10 defensive starters and two starters for special teams.
One of the biggest questions for Utah was who would be quarterback. Six-foot-1-inch, 187-pound sophomore Darnell Arceneaux, who led Utah to season-ending wins against BYU and Rice, will start as quarterback.
“Darnell does a lot of things that you can’t teach; he’s a good leader and he loves to play. He may call one play and it will turn into another play,” McBride said.
Senior Jonathan Crosswhite (6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds), who started the first nine games, is right behind Arceneaux, according to McBride. “I’d go to Crosswhite in a minute. He played extremely well in the spring,” he said.
One key player missing this year from the Utes’ offense is All-WAC wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who graduated and became the first receiver taken in the NFL draft. Senior Daniel Jones, (5 feet 11 inches, 182 pounds) will help fill the gap. Jones is returning from a sprained ankle in the fourth game of 1997. He averaged 117.5 yards per game — first in the WAC and eighth nationally — in the first three games.
The Utes’ receiver position is strong; four of five receivers are returning, including junior Boo Bendinger (6 feet 1 inch, 222 pounds), junior Donny Utu (6 feet, 222 pounds), senior Jerome Anderson (5 feet 11 inches, 178 pounds), and sophomore Chris Christensen (5 feet 11 inches, 182 pounds).
Offensively, McBride said recruiting running backs was the biggest problem. Juan Johnson graduated and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala decided to forego his senior year and enter the NFL draft. They were the main running backs for the last three years, McBride said.
“We had redshirted junior Omar (Bacon) in ’97, (6-foot-1-inch, 208 pounds) and thought that Omar and Chris (Fuamatu-Ma’afala) would be the guys that would carry the load this next year. Losing Chris was kind of a shock to us,” McBride said.
To fill in the gaps are redshirt freshman Thomas Fortune (6 feet 1 inch, 196 pounds) and Mike Anderson (6-foot-2-inches, 208 pounds), a recruit from Mt. San Jacinto College who was the 1997 California Offensive Player of the Year.
McBride said the team should be very solid on defense. Not only do they have strong returning players, they also have strong recruits.
“I feel good about our linebackers,” McBride said. First team, all-WAC Phil Glover (6 feet, 237 pounds) is the main reason why. “Phil is our highlight guy. He is the guy who makes all the plays,” McBride said. Glover will be joined by junior Taulia Lave (6 feet 1 inch, 255 pounds) in the middle and Jason Hooks (6 feet 3 inches, 262 pounds) on the strong side.
The defensive line will be lead by first-team all-WAC nose guard Pene Talamaivao (6 feet 4 inches, 313 pounds). He and right end starter John Frank (6 feet 5 inches, 271 pounds) were injured for spring play but will be back with senior tackle Mike Thomas (6 feet 1 inch, 303 pounds) and junior Bobby Enosa (6 feet 4 inches, 270 pounds) at end.
When asked how he felt about being ranked second in the WAC Pacific Division, McBride said, “All that matters is how you rank at the end.” He and the Utes will have that in mind as they end the season against BYU.