Utah now has control of its destiny. If the Utes can win the remainder of their games, they should lock up a second BCS Bowl in the last three years. The talented Utes entertain Boise State Saturday in what could be a big step towards that goal.
It's David vs. Goliath.Villanova vs. Georgetown.TampaBay vs. Joe Montana's San
Francisco 49'ers.On paper, the pundits and experts give BoiseState little chance against the
powerful Utah Utes, who just two seasons ago stole the Broncos' thunder.As both teams were nearing the end of the
season undefeated, it was Utah
which was chosen for the Fiesta Bowl, not BoiseState.The Utes then went out and proved the BCS
selection was deserved, pounding Pittsburgh
of the Big East.Oddsmakers in Las
Vegas now have Utah
as 5 and a half point favorites—just short of the eight point spread that Georgia
was favored over the Broncos.
Now that fellow Mountain West Conference member BYU has
ended TCU's hopes of making a BCS
Bowl, the Utes are talking about another trip to a big bowl game.
The 2006 Utes feature many different faces than the ones
which swept to that Fiesta Bowl title.This
year's Broncos are by and large still the same cast of characters that were
bypassed in favor of Utah. Utah returns eight starters on defense and four on offense
Utah led the
Mountain West Conference in offense last year.Quarterback Brett Ratliff (6-4, 224, Sr.) stepped in for starter Brian Johnson last year and led the Utes to a win over BYU and then a victory over
Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl last year.He's 60-110 this year (54.55%) for 800 yards with eight touchdowns and
only one interception. He's a threat to
run, with 117 yards rushing as well.
Darryl Poston (5-11, 197, Sr.) is the lone running back in
the backfield for Utah.He's run for 154 yards on 34 carries (4.5
average) and two touchdowns.Backup Mike Liti
(5-10, 215, Jr.) has shown a propensity to be explosive (18-125) with a 6.9
yards per carry average.
Receiver Brian Hernandez is the most dangerous of the Ute
receivers but he is coming off a surgically repaired ankle and has yet to
regain his form.Derrek Richards (5-11,
175, Jr.) and sophomores Brent Casteel (5-10, 193) and Marquis Wilson (5-11,
179) are the other wideouts.Richards is
the top receiver so far this year with 19 catches for 233 yards and three
touchdowns while Wilson has
accounted for 14 receptions for 221 yards and two scores.Casteel has chipped in to the balanced attack
with 11 catches this season.
The offensive line is one of the best in the country,
evidenced by the fact that Utah
has not given up a sack all season.If
defensive line cannot generate pressure any better than they did against Hawai'i,
Utah will be able to do pretty
much what it wants to do.Senior Tavo Tupola (6-4, 300) anchors that line at left tackle.He'll be joined by right tackle Jason Boone
(6-4, 300, Jr.), guards Robert Conley (6-1, 310, So.) and Zane Beadles (6-4,
308, Fr.) and center Kyle Gunther (6-4, 302, Jr.)
Eric Weddle (6-0, 200, Sr.), the Mountain West Defensive
Player of the Year in '05, is an All-American candidate in his senior
season.Last week, Weddle was the Walter
Camp National Player of the Week following a performance against San
saw him return two interceptions for touchdowns and score a third on
offense.Weddle is a game-changer and is
all over the field with a nose for the ball, very similar to BoiseState's Quinton Jones, except that
he is used more.
Weddle plays cornerback this season after starring at strong
safety last year, moving into the new role because of a lineup change.Casey Evans (6-0, 200, Sr.) is another
standout in the secondary at rover.Eric
Shyne (5-10, 178, Sr.) is the other corner, with free safety Steve Tate (5-11,
200, Jr.) and John Peel (6-2, 196, So.) taking Weddle's place at strong safety.
one of the top defensive lines in the country, anchored by tackle Kelly Talavou, who moves from nose tackle.Paul Soliai (6-4, 315, Sr.) will start at nose, with ends Martali
Burnett (6-3, 252, Jr.) and Soli Lefiti (6-4, 265, Sr.) joining him on the
Joe Jiannoni (6-1, 235, Jr.) will start at the middle
linebacker position while Kyle Brady (6-1, 232, Jr.) is the "Sam" linebacker.
averaged 10.80 on punt returns although Weddle will likely see time there as
well.Brent Casteel averages 17.33 yards
per kickoff return with Richards also back for the Utes.Sophomore Louis Sakoda (5-10, 175) will see
dual duty at both placekicker and punter for Utah.Ute coaches had preferred someone else to do
the punting, yet Sakoda is 11th in the nation with a 44.40 average.He's also a perfect five-for-five on field
Utah is 39th
in the country in rushing with a 139.65 yards per game while they are 47th
in passing with 220 yards per contest thus far.That puts the Utes 33rd in the nation in total offense, just
nine yards behind BoiseState.However, Utah
has played much tougher competition, including a game in Los
Angeles against powerful UCLA.Utah
is 21st in scoring, averaging 35.25 points, just one point per game
shy of the Broncos.
The Utes are 39th in rushing defense, allowing
just 104.8 yards per game but it's the pass defense, led by Weddle, where the
ranks 19th in the nation in that category, allowing a mere 149 yards
per game.Overall, they are also 19th
in total defense and 15th in scoring defense, allowing just 11.3
points per contest.Although much has
been mentioned about BoiseState's
turnover margin (+7), Utah is
right behind at plus six.The Utes have
lost three fumbles and thrown three interceptions, but they have also generated
12 turnovers on defense.
has been heralded for its special teams play for several years, yet it's Utah
that has performed this year.The Utes
are 16th in punt return defense allowing just over three yards per
Buoyed by BYU's upset win over 17th-ranked TCU
last night, Utah now has a clear
path to a second BCS Bowl in three
has a big MWC game against TCU next week in Salt Lake City.They also get BYU at home, leaving them as
the favorites to win the conference.The
experts predict Utah will have
little problem with BoiseState,
and then they just have to win their conference games to earn the nod.