COACH SAYS: Coach Kyle Whittingham says stopping the Beavers resurgent ground game is priority number one. "They have gotten better each and every week. They have discovered their running back and how effective he can be. Rodgers is like all great backs - when nothing is there he will find a way to make yards."
INCOMING: DE Paul Kruger equaled an MWC record with 4.0 sacks at Utah State. His four sacks are the most by any FBS player thus far in 2008. Kruger ranks second in the country and leads the MWC in tackles for loss average (2.30). Kruger is tied for 14th in the nation (second in the MWC) in sacks per game (0.90). He has 11.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks total. The preseason all conference pick also has three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
ONE OF THE BEST: Senior kicker/punter Louie Sakoda is one of the best kickers/punters in the nation. He was recently named the MWC's Special Teams Player of the Week after connecting on three of three field goals (33, 47, 38) and all of his extra points. Sakoda is now Utah's career leader in career points (238) and career field goals (45). He is a perfect 8 of 8 from 47 yards in and his 83.3% career field goal percentage (45 of 54) ranks first among all active kickers.
STINGY: The Utah defense ranks nationally in several defensive categories - fourth in opponent first downs (62), fifth in total defense (231.4) and rushing defense (60.2), and sixth in tackles for loss (8.60). The Utes have limited four of their five opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground (Michigan-36, UNLV-129, Utah State-27, Air Force-53, Weber State-56).
ONE OF THE KEYS: Coach Whittingham says being physical one of the keys to Thursday's game. "Their front seven are really gelling together. They have good movement at the line of scrimmage and they hit you right in the mouth. We have to beat them to the punch and match their physicality. Between the emergence of the tailback and the efficiency of the offensive line they have gotten better every week."
MOVING ON UP: Despite missing a good chuck of his junior year QB Brian Johnson currently ranks among the league’s Top 10 in six career statistical categories. The senior is second in pass completion percentage (497-756, 65.7%), fourth in completions (497), sixth in passing yards (6,010), sixth in total offense yards (6,729), seventh in pass attempts (756) and ninth in total plays (1,058). He is 18-7 as a starter.
A TRIO: Three of Utah’s top five tacklers are linemen: DE Koa Misi leads the team with 28 tackles, DE Paul Kruger is second with 26 stops, and DT Greg Newman is fifth (22). All three rank in the league’s top 10 this week in tackles for loss (Kruger leads the league, Newman is tied for sixth and Misi is ninth).
AGAINST THE PAC: Since 2003, Utah is 5-2 against the Pac-10 (4-0 in Rice-Eccles Stadium), with wins over California (2003), No. 19 Oregon (2003), Arizona (2004, 2005) and UCLA (2007). Losses were to UCLA (2006) and Oregon State (2007). The Utes are 7-7 vs. Pac-10 teams since joining the MWC and 50-89-3 all-time. The only Pac-10 team they have a winning record against is Arizona while the only Pac-10 team they have never defeated is Washington. Whittingham is 2-2 against the Pac-10 as Utah’s head coach.
STALWARTS ON THE LINE: Senior offensive guard Robert Conley (knee) is expected to return to the lineup this week. Conley saw his string of consecutive games played stopped at 42 last week when he missed the first game of his career. Junior all-conference candidate Zane Beadles has started since his freshman year (the last two seasons at left tackle). He has played in 30-of-31 games since his redshirt freshman season in 2006, starting in 29.
LOOK OUT FOR: Junior middle linebacker Mike Wright has led the team in tackles in the last two games, recording a career-high 10 stops against Air Force and tying for the team lead with six against Weber State.
BCS BUSTERS: Utah joins Fresno State as the non-BCS teams with the most wins against BCS schools since 2000 (14). Utah is 14-10 against BCS teams since 2000 (not counting a 2001 win over South Florida, which was not in the Big East at that time) and 9-3 since 2004.
A COUPLE OF GOOD ONES: Utah has two senior receivers with 1,000 career yards: Brent Casteel (1,309) and Bradon Godfrey (1,134). Godfrey leads Utah and is tied for ninth in the MWC in receptions per game (4.40). He is Utah’s leading receiver with 22 catches for 250 yards (50.0 yards per game) to go with two touchdowns. Casteel is tied for second on the team in receptions (18) and third in receiving yards (219).