Head football coach Gary Patterson detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the Utah football team TCU will face Thursday.”They play well on special teams, on offense and on defense,” Patterson said at Tuesday’s media luncheon. “They’re athletic, they play together and they’re very physical.”
Even though Utah lost quarterback Alex Smith to the NFL and head coach Urban Meyer to Florida, the Utes still have several all-conference candidates on their roster. Senior running back Quinton Ganther is an offensive threat that both Patterson and players said will likely be the focus of their defensive game plan.
“(Ganther) is like a shorter Adrian Peterson (of Oklahoma); every game he runs over somebody,” Patterson said. “You’ve got to gang-tackle him.”
Senior defensive tackle Jared Kesler said Ganther is not just comparable to 2004 Heisman Trophy finalist Peterson – he’s better.
“I would put him above Peterson,” Kesler said. “Peterson’s main attribute was his balance. But (Ganther) is stronger, faster. We’re just going to try and stop him early. Once he gets past the line of scrimmage, he’s really tough to tackle.”
Utah also retained senior defensive lineman Steve Fifita, a 2005 All-American candidate and 2004 first-team All-Mountain West Conference member. Fifita, who won a Defensive Most Valuable Player award at last year’s Fiesta Bowl, has been recognized by some NFL scouts as the best defensive lineman in college football.
Patterson said stopping a player like Fifita, who benched 460 pounds last season (the most on the team), demands both a solid game plan and perhaps a little bit of luck.
“We could see if he misses the plane,” Patterson said jokingly. “Not only is he very athletic, but he plays very hard. If you don’t account for him, he’s going to make your life miserable.”
One advantage Patterson said TCU may have is an experienced senior quarterback in Tye Gunn, compared to Utah’s sophomore starter Brian Johnson.
“They have a first-year starter,” Patterson said. “How is he going to get all that (game plan) down in four days?”
Sophomore linebacker David Hawthorne said the defense is prepared to match up against the Utes’ inexperienced quarterback.
“We’re gonna move around quite a bit,” Hawthorne said. “We’re going to fly around and give him a lot of different looks.”
After going one for four on field goals in Saturday’s loss, TCU junior kicker Peter LoCoco will be replaced by sophomore Chris Manfredini against Utah, Patterson said.
“(Manfredini) kicked as a freshman at Cincinnati, so he has experience,” Patterson said. “The last two weeks he’s had good camps. LoCoco kicked well in practice and at Oklahoma, and we don’t make changes until someone beats another guy out.”
Star players and roster adjustments aside, Patterson said the outcome will come down to the fundamentals.
“It’s about finding a way to win,” Patterson said. “It’s about who doesn’t give up the big play and who can wrap up and tackle.