By Charles Renning
PHOTO COURTESY UTAH ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS
Utah junior quarterback Alex Smith scrambles out of the pocket during a game last season at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Smith led the Utes to a 10-2 record and the Mountain West championship a year ago.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 10, 2004
The Pacific 10 Conference is notorious for turning out great quarterbacks, and this year is no exception. The Arizona football team will have its hands full with Southern California’s Matt Leinart, Arizona State’s Andrew Walter and California’s Aaron Rodgers. However, the quarterback that could give the Wildcats’ defense the most trouble is from a non-Bowl Championship Series school.
Utah’s quarterback, Alex Smith, is a dual threat for the Utes, and can hurt opposing teams with both his arms and his legs, as he showed last week in Utah’s 41-21 win over Texas A&M.
“Alex Smith is a tremendous football player. I like the way he plays, the way he manages the game, the way he finds receivers, the way he scrambles — he does everything well,” said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops.
Smith finished last weekend’s season opener with 76 rushing yards and two scores on the ground to go with a career-high 359 passing yards and three touchdowns. Smith accounted for 30 of the team’s 41 points and earned National Player of the Week honors from The Sporting News for his efforts.
The junior out of La Mesa, Calif., picked up right where he left off in the 2003 season. Last year, he became the starter three games into the season and just missed out on Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. After less than a season at the Utes’ helm, he is already Utah’s career leader in completion percentage, passing efficiency and yards per completion.
Even though Smith comes from a non-BCS school, he has already gathered national attention. He was a preseason All-American and has been mentioned as a possible Heisman contender.
Team Nickname: Utes
Location: Salt Lake City
2003 Record: 10-2 (6-1 Mountain West)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Player to Watch: QB Alex Smith
“He’s a legitimate all-conference, All-American type of player,” Stoops said.
One thing that sticks out about Smith’s ability is his good decision-making skills.
He had a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2003 and has started out this year at 3-to-1 — not to mention that it took him just two years to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics and he began work in the master’s program this fall.
The Utah receivers have also added to the success of Smith.
“He has great receivers around him,” Stoops said. “I really like the way the receivers find holes in the defense and understand the concepts really well.”
The top three receivers from a year ago all returned and started putting up numbers in the Utes’ first game.
Senior Paris Warren and sophomore Steve Savoy both recorded more than 100 yards receiving last week and will be key tomorrow night.
Utah comes into the non-conference game ranked 17th in the Associated Press poll, and is coming off a school-record-tying 10-2 season .
If the Utes can beat the Wildcats this weekend and run the tables in the Mountain West Conference, they could become the first non-BCS team to play in a BCS game.
“It will be a great challenge. We’ll know even more about our football team after Saturday,” Stoops said.
The Wildcats could have a bit of an inside track when it comes to scouting Utah. Defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo joined the Arizona staff this season from the Utes in 2003.
“He can’t tell us when they’re going to run each play and how they’re going to run it,” Stoops said. “He knows their personnel somewhat, knows their defense, what they like to run in certain situations. But again, they like to line up and play football and that’s the thing.”