San Jose State's Week Two opponent isn't as daunting as the opening week foe, but is a little dog that has done some loud barking the last handful of years. Utah began its rise to power after completing a perfect season (12-0) in 2004. The Utes head coach from that year, Urban Meyer, has gone on to achieve great success at the University of Florida while the starting quarterback, Alex Smith, went on to…well, we all know what he went on to do.
Utah shocked the nation again last season after securing the school's second undefeated campaign (13-0), which included embarrassing an SEC powerhouse in the 2009 Sugar Bowl (Alabama, 31-17). After this victory, and a season-ending No. 2 ranking in the AP Top 25, head coach Kyle Whittingham and Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson lobbied vehemently for the conference to have an automatic BCS Bowl bid. A proposal ensuring this scenario that installed an eight-team playoff format was put on the table, but in late June the BCS committee rejected the idea. With strong teams like Utah, TCU and BYU, the MWC provides a great case for their champion to be playing in one of the five major bowls.
Scout.com has Utah ranked No. 20 in its pre-preseason poll. Offensively, seven starters from last year will be absent, including unflappable quarterback Brian Johnson who was one of the best game-managers in the nation. Junior signal-caller Corbin Louks is the favorite to replace Johnson, supplying a ground threat with 4.42-forty speed. Two other quarterbacks are on the heels of Louks should he falter. Junior College transfer Terrance Cain (Blinn CC, Texas) will also be in the mix as well as true freshman Jordan Wynn, who flourished during spring ball. None of these QBs is taller than 6-1. Also gone is running back Darrell Mack. Senior tailback Matt Asiata is ready to shoulder the load with Mack having departed. He led the team in rushing last season with 707 yards and 12 TDs. The Utes receiving corps is a bit inexperienced after losing all three starters. The go-to guys will be senior David Reed who accounted for 25 receptions for 427 yards and six TDs in '08, and Aiona Key. Key is a 6-4, 195-pound beast of a receiver who transferred from Boise so you know he has talent even with only a single reception last year. Reed also returns kickoffs for Utah and averaged more than 25 yards a clip last season.
Four starters are gone on defense including DE Paul Kruger, who was snared by the Ravens in the second round of this year's NFL Draft. While his 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss will be sorely missed, Koa Misi (3.0 sacks in '08) is quick from the right DE position and Derrick Shelby has a ton of upside from the left DE spot. These two should be able to provide a solid pass rush every game. The strength of this side of the ball, however, is its linebacking trio led by NFL-bound junior Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester, who compiled 133.0 tackles last season, alongside Mike Wright and Kepa Gaison will make it nearly impossible for any team to run the ball effectively. The Utes only surrendered 99.1 yards per game last season, good for No. 11 in the nation. The secondary is solid at the safety positions with Joe Dale and Robert Johnson uniting as the best tandem in the conference.
San Jose State Passing Game vs. Utah Cornerbacks. The loss of two First-Team MWC corners has placed question marks above those Utah positions. The newcomers will surely come around as the season progresses, but may still be finding their footing in this Week 2 matchup. The Spartans offense will need to methodically nickel and dime its way down the field in order get into an offensive rhythm. This strategy is not unfamiliar to Quarterbacks Coach Terry Malley as this is the gameplan in the Arena Football League he emerged from. Kyle Reed/Jordan La Secla will be tested and will have to throw with accuracy because it will be tough to find running room against the Utes.
The Spartans will find themselves labeled as heavy underdogs for second straight week. This game should end up being a battle of clock-management and defense. Will San Jose State be able to convert enough third downs? Utah only allowed its opponent to convert 30.3 percent of their third downs in 2008 – the seventh-best mark in country. If the Spartans can come away with a couple of big defensive plays, they could upset the Crimson and White. Another aspect giving State a chance is the "look-ahead" factor with the Utes traveling to Eugene to play the Oregon Ducks the following week. Perhaps an added bonus is an amped-up Spartan crowd in San Jose with the game being televised on ESPNU with 46 million subscribers watching. The national television coverage and the beating the Spartans took the week before will provide motivation to give a great effort in this game, but San Jose State will come up short in the end.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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