SALT LAKE CITY — Although it’s only been a couple of years since Dave Schramm concluded a lengthy tenure as a University of Utah assistant coach, the Fresno State offensive coordinator claims he isn’t all that excited about Saturday’s return to Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“No, not really. Not having to go in there and play those guys,” Schramm said. “If I was going skiing or something, or going back and seeing friends, it might be a little different. I’d be excited about it. But we’ve got our hands full.”
Schramm worked for the Utes from 2005-11 and explained that he knows their defensive guys well. As such, he’s expecting everything they’ve got.
“Having been there for seven years I know we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Schramm said. “Those guys do such a great job on defense.”
Utah’s defense is sound in what it does, he added, and there’s always a wrinkle here-and-there that offenses must adjust to on game day.
Schramm doesn’t know if past familiarity is any sort of advantage, other than knowing that the Utes have good coaches.
“You’re not going to slide anything by them,” he said. “They’re going to be ready for anything. They always are.”
There’s mutual respect on that front as the Utes (1-0) and Bulldogs (0-1) prepare to meet.
“Dave did a great job for us while he was here, one of the top running back coaches in the country, and he was an excellent recruiter,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He just did a solid job for us.”
Whittingham also had good things to say about Schramm’s offenses at Fresno State.
“They’ve been very productive and explosive,” Whittingham said. “He has done a great job over there.”
In 2013, Schramm coordinated a Bulldogs offense led by quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams. The duo wound up being second-round NFL draft picks.
Fresno State led the nation with 394.8 yards passing per game. The Bulldogs were third in total offense with 547.8 yards per game and sixth in scoring with 43.4 points per outing. They racked up 822 yards against New Mexico and had six games with more than 600 yards of total offense.
The previous season — when Schramm became coordinator — Fresno State averaged 477.5 yards of total offense, 325.6 passing yards and 37.9 points. Running back Robbie Rouse rushed for 1,490 yards.
“It’s been good, it’s been fun,” said Schramm, who added that things in Fresno have been great and that the community has been really supportive.
Schramm’s offensive scheme has been described as an up-tempo scheme that puts the ball in the hands of playmakers.
“That is exactly it. That’s our philosophy,” he said. “Our offense isn’t really about the plays, it’s about the players.”
Schramm explained that in Fresno State’s system, the quarterback is like a point guard seeking to distribute the ball and looking for one-on-one matchups.
“We try to get the ball to the guys that can make plays as fast as we can get it to them, as many times as we can get it to them,” Schramm said.
It worked well the past two seasons. Schramm credits former Fresno State coach Pat Hill for doing a great job of having so many great juniors and seniors in the program who adapted quickly to the system and executed it. Carr and company came within a game of most likely reaching a BCS game last season.
Now, the Bulldogs are younger with a lot of freshmen and sophomores — and less-experienced upper classmen — in the mix.
“We’ll battle through some things,” Schramm said.
In Saturday’s 52-13 loss at USC, Fresno State managed just 317 yards of total offense and 17 first downs. Junior quarterback Brian Burrell (Carr’s backup last season) and senior Duke transfer Brandon Connette combined to complete 18-of-36 passes for 160 yards. Connette threw three interceptions and Burrell was picked off once.
Schramm said both will play against Utah, but acknowledged that the Bulldogs will need better play out of the position than they got in the opener against USC to be successful.
The 2014 schedule isn’t offering much help. Fresno State opens the season with road games at USC and Utah before a Sept. 13 home opener against Nebraska.
“It’s a baptism of fire for us. Our guys have got to grow up fast,” Schramm said. “It is what it is. We’ll go and compete and do the best we can to try to put some points on the board.”
The next challenge, he pointed out, will require preparing for excessive crowd noise on the road. Many of the younger players in Fresno State’s program haven’t been exposed to it. To Schramm, Rice-Eccles Stadium is no different than playing at places like Oregon or Washington.
“They just do a great job there,” Schramm said of Utah’s fan support and student section. “They’re right on top of you.”
The environment, he mentioned, makes it a harder place to play than the Coliseum in Los Angeles even though the capacity is much smaller.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” said Schramm, who noted that he enjoyed his time in Utah and joked that he might get a little bit of tunnel vision upon his return and accidentally walk into the wrong locker room.
As for the reunion aspect, Whittingham thinks it’ll be irrelevant as far as the game is concerned.
“Things evolve, things change. So really the only thing that matters is what’s going on now with your schemes and that type of thing,” he said. “Dave’s been gone for a couple of years now and so things have evolved.”
Thus, Whittingham doesn’t think Schramm or the Utah defensive staff will have any sort of advantage because of their past association.
“I agree with that 100 percent. We’re not really playing against those guys. We’re playing the guys they coach,” Schramm said. “They’re trying to create their matchups and we’re trying to create ours and just trying to do what we can to be productive and get the ball in the end zone — all those things, and I know they’re trying to stop us.”
Besides, Schramm noted that what Fresno State is doing is different than what Utah was doing when he was with the Utes. Schramm said what he knows is that Utah has really good football coaches and players that will be sound in what they do and be in great condition — all those things.
Schramm knows the program well. From 2005-08, he coached Utah’s running backs and was the team’s recruiting coordinator. In 2009, Schramm served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The next season, he was co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach.
In his final year at Utah (2011), Schramm oversaw the running backs.
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Fresno State (0-1) at Utah (1-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700