Utah vs TCU- Game Preview

The biggest game in MWC and non-BCS history takes place with two top 5 teams battling in SLC..

Facts and Factors

No. 5/6/6 Utah (8-0, 5-0 MWC) plays No. 3/4/4 TCU (9-0, 5-0 MWC) in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 6. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium. ESPN College Football GameDay will host its shows from the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot on Friday and Saturday (more below). The game itself will be televised by CBS C. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com) and Westwood One, with ESPN Radio GameDay hosting its shows on location as well.

ESPN College Football GameDay will be in Salt Lake City this weekend, broadcasting shows from the Rice-Eccles Stadium west parking lot on Friday (10 a.m.-noon MT) and Saturday (7-10 a.m.). Fans are encouraged to arrive at 6 a.m. Saturday (general parking is available in the Huntsman and Merrill Engineering lots). ESPN Radio GameDay is also coming to town and will host a variety of shows from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. MT Saturday on the lawn by the Eccles Tennis Center.

Utah is No. 5 in the BCS Standings and No. 6 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' polls this week, the earliest it has ever been ranked this high. Utah's best national ranking came in 2008, when it finished the season ranked No. 2 after crushing Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl. Utah is off to its third 8-0 start in the last seven years (the Utes finished 12-0 in 2004 and 13-0 in 2008).

No. 3 TCU is the highest ranked opponent Utah has hosted in Rice-Eccles Stadium since it opened in 1998 and ties the highest ranking ever by an opponent in Salt Lake City (BYU was No. 3 in the 1984 game in old Rice Stadium). The highest ranked opponents previously to visit Rice-Eccles Stadium were No. 11 UCLA in 2007 and No. 11 TCU in 2008. Utah beat both teams. Utah's current No. 5 BCS ranking ties its best ever for a home game. The Utes were ranked No. 5 by the A.P. for a 52-21 home win over Brigham Young in 2004.

The Utes lead the series with TCU 5-2, including a 3-0 mark in Salt Lake City.

DÉJÀ VU? There are plenty of similarities between the upcoming game and the 2008 Utah-TCU game in Salt Lake City: Both teams were ranked (Utah No. 10 and TCU No. 11), the game was played on Nov. 6 and televised nationally on CBS College Sports, the theme of the game was a "Blackout" and both teams were undefeated in Mountain West Conference play. Utah won that game 13-10.

THE STREAK

Utah's home win streak, now at 21 games, is the third-longest active home win streak in the nation, the second-longest in school history and longest in MWC history. "The Streak" dates back to a Sept. 15, 2007 victory over 11th-ranked UCLA and currently ranks behind only Oklahoma (35) and Boise State (29). The school record for consecutive home wins is 26, set from 1928-34.

GET YOUR BLACK OUT

Saturday's game is the third-annual Blackout game for the Utes, with the preceding Blackouts coming against TCU in 2008 and Wyoming in 2009. Utah is 2-0 in Blackout games in Salt Lake City. This year's Blackout will also feature a camouflage theme in honor of the Wounded Warrior Project. Fans are encouraged to wear black, or black and camouflage, attire to the game. Apparel is being sold online at www.utahutes.com and at local licensed retailers. The Ute players will wear specially designed camouflage and black jerseys with the words Duty, Honor, Courage, Commitment, Country, Integrity and Service replacing their last names. CBS will auction off the game jerseys on Nov. 8 on UtahUtes.com. Also in recognition of the Wounded Warrior Program, 25,000 American flags will be handed out at the entry gates, three wounded veterans will serve as honorary captains for the coin toss and 50 active and retired soldiers will hold a huge American flag for the National Anthem.

LAST TIME THEY MET IN SLC

The last time Utah and TCU played in Salt Lake City, No. 10 Utah staged a late rally to beat No. 11 TCU 13-10. Trailing 10-6 with 2:48 remaining, current Ute quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, then a senior QB for Utah, completed 7-of-9 passes culminating with a touchdown pass to Freddie Brown with less than a minute left. Until the late-game offensive heroics, this was a defensive batttle. After relinquishing 10 points in the first nine minutes of the game, Utah held TCU scoreless the remainder of the way. Stevenson Sylvester, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, led Utah with 10 tackles, and had one of the team's four sacks. Sean Smith, now a Miami Dolphin, returned an interception 37 yards to set up a Louie Sakoda field goal.

This is it. For all the marbles. The biggest matchup between two non-BCS teams EVER!!!! This is bigger than last year's Fiesta Bowl pitting TCU and Boise State. This one has national title implications, with the winner having a very good shot at getting into the BCS title game.

When Utah Has the Ball

This is a battle of the titans. Utah comes in with the 3rd ranked scoring offense at 45 points per game while TCU'sscoring defense is first at only 8.67 points per game. To give you a little more perspective on how good that is, the next best team in the country is Alabama at 12.5 per game.

Statistically, TCU's defense is the best in the nation. Their 4-2-5 defense has been stifling all year as teams have been able to neither run nor throw the ball against the Horned Frogs. The Utes absolutely have to run the ball with some success using both Matt Asiata and Edde Wide. They won't have the same 51 carries as last week, but somewhere in the 30-40 range, and over 150 yards will be considered a success.

The battle in the trenches is going to be a war. The Utah offensive line is probably the best in the conference and has been stellar all year. They've allowed only three sacks and Jordan Wynn and Terrance Cain have had games where they literally went untouched. The run game has been very good as well on the season and is paving the way for almost 200 yards per game on the ground. TCU's defensive line has been tremendous this year, led by end Wayne Daniels. If Daniels can get consistent pressure on Jordan Wynn, the Utes could be in for a long day.

At linebacker, TCU brings the best duo, and possibly the best overall linebackers in the conference in Tank Carder and Tanner Brock. Both are very athletic and smart linebackers. They do a great job of getting off of their blocks and making plays in both the running game and passing game. Carder's interception of Jake Heaps in the BYU game a few weeks ago was tremendous.

The corners for TCU lead the top ranked passing defense in the country at under 120 yards per game. Jason Teague is an elite corner and will probably get the task of stopping Jereme Brooks.

The key to the passing game is going to be the health and productivity of wide receiver DeVonte Christopher. He looked decent in practice throughout the week and his ability to turn the short pass into a long touchdown has been huge for the Utes this year. In his absence last week, Jordan Wynn didn't throw deep very often, and the passing game suffered. Getting Jereme Brooks involved early with short, quick passes can help open up the long ball for Shaky Smithson, Luke Matthews, and DeVonte Christopher.

TCU has arguably the best group of safeties in the conference. They're big, fast, and rangy, and are led by Teejay Johnson. The Utes are going to have trouble going deep on this group throughout the game, making the early involvement of Brooks even more crucial.

The biggest key to this game is going to be the play of Jordan Wynn. Wynn has been hot and cold over the last few weeks, mixing tremendous games with mediocre performances. He needs to be at the top of his game for the Utes to hang with the Frogs. If he's rattled and starts pressing, TCU will pick up on it, bring the pressure, and force Wynn into mistakes.

Advantage: TCU

When TCU Has the Ball

While not quite at the level TCU's defense is at, Utah's is still pretty good, and it all starts with the deepest defensive line in the country. The Utes are going to rotate at least 12 different guys along the defensive line in an attempt to keep their players fresh, while trying to stop the nation's 9th ranked rushing attack and put pressure on senior quarterback Andy Dalton.

Dalton is a winner. He has more career victories than any other quarterback in the nation and is primed to lead TCU to a national championship. An underrated runner, he averages over 6 yards a carry on the ground and will just as easily tuck it and run as throw it downfield to one of his speedy receivers. He's very efficient with 16 touchdowns compared to only 5 interceptions. To slow down Dalton, the Utes are going to use a lot of nickel coverage, sending corner Lamar Chapman on the blitz often, trying to disrupt Dalton's rhythm and timing.

In front of him is an offensive line that rivals Utah's for the best in the conference. Marcus Cannon is an absolute beast of a human being at the left tackle spot and is the best in the conference. Center Jake Kirkpatrick was named an All American last year by multiple publications and is like a second quarterback on the field. Right tackle Zach Roth is likely the best right tackle in the Mountain West, while left guard Kyle Dooley is a tremendous run blocker. They're a huge reason as to why the Horned Frogs have been so dominant this year, opening huge holes for the running backs, and giving Dalton all day to throw.

The defensive line for the Utes is going to have their hands full with that offensive line trying to get to Dalton. Derrick Shelby looks fully healed from the knee injury he suffered last season and has been on a terror last week. He'll be matched up with Cannon for much of the game. Christian Cox and Junior Tui'one are very good in run support and will help keep the TCU running backs in the middle of the field. Inside, Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger will be going up against the best line they've seen all year. If they can be close to half as effective against the Horned Frogs as they have been against everyone else, in getting quarterback pressure and in stopping the run, the Utes will have a great chance at pulling off the upset.

The TCU running game will easily be the most difficult test that the Utah linebackers have faced this year. The rushing attack for TCU is averaging over 270 yards per game on the ground and is led by Ed Wesley and Matthew Trucker. Wesley is an absolute stud as he closes in on 1,000 yards rushing for the season. He lit up the Utes for 137 yards on 12 carries in 2008. Trucker is the bigger back of the two and has almost 500 yards on the year. The linbebacking trio of Chaz Walker, Matt Martinez, and Chad Manis have to be at their absolute best on Saturday.

Chad Manis has been hobbled this week following an injury in the win over Air Force, and looks to be a game time decision. The Utes have almost ZERO depth at the linebacker spot, with Boo Anderson the backup at all three positions, and no one else listed on the depth chart. Safety Greg Bird could move up and play a bit of linebacker like he did at times last week, but the Utes are really going to need a healthy Manis if they want to keep TCU from moving the ball consistently. Manis has been tremendous when dropping into coverage and limiting short passes over this middle, using all of his 6'5" frame. Without him, that middle could open up for the Horned Frogs.

The Utes secondary hasn't seen the kind of speed that the TCU receivers possess all year. While not the most physically imposing group, they're very fast, great route runners, and are willing to block downfield. Jeremy Kerley is the best of the group with 35 catches for over 360 yards and 7 touchdowns. Brandon Burton will be matched up on Kerley often trying to limit TCU's best deep threat. If Burton can slow down Kerley, it'll be up to Lamar Chapman and Conroy Black to shut down the other side of the field in containing Jimmy Young and the rest of the receivers.

The biggest question mark in this game might be the play of Utah's safeties. Justin Taplin-Ross and Brian Blechen both had poor games last week against Air Force. They were constantly out of position, took poor angles, and over-pursued plays. That absolutely cannot happen again this week. Dalton may try to test the true freshman Blechen early. How he responds could set a precedent for the rest of the game.

While TCU's offense is very good, Utah's defense could be one of the five or six best in the country.

Advantage: Utah

Special Teams

You'd be hard pressed to find two better return men in the country than Utah's Shaky Smithson and TCU's Jeremy Kerley. Kerley was an All American kick returner in 2009, taking two back to the house. He's 17th in the nation in punt return average with over 13 yards per return, while averaging over 28 yards per kick return, good for 14th in the nation. Shaky is leading the country in punt return average at an astounding 23.3 yards per return with two touchdowns, and another one that fell a yard short. Throw in his average of 24 yards per kick return, along with Reggie Dunn's average of over 40 yards per kick return on four returns, including a touchdown, and the Utes have the best return duo in the country.

In the kicking game, both teams employ very consistent and reliable kickers and punters. Utah's Joe Phillips missed his first kick of the year last year, breaking a streak of 18 straight, while Ross Evans is a prefect 6 for 6 on the year. Neither kicker has the biggest leg though, meaning a 45+ yarder at the end may be a stretch.

Utah punter Sean Sellwood has really seen his average drop over the last few games from the high 40s down to 42 yards per punt. While he does have a big leg, his strength is directional kicking and pinning opponents deep inside their own twenty. Anson Kelton hasn't been used a ton this year by TCU, but is averaging almost 42 yards per punt with 13 of those downed inside the 20.

We're really splitting hairs here, but we have to give the Utes a tiny edge because of the kicking game. Phillips is a little better than Evans and Sellwood is in the same boat with the TCU punter Kelton. That gives Utah the edge, and it a game that could come down to a field goal at the end, possibly the win.
Advantage: Utah

Coaching

This is very close as these are two of the best head coaches, and two of the best coaching staffs in the country.

Aaron Roderick has developed into a star in the coaching world and has been tremendous with his play calling for most of the season, though last week against Air Force the play calling was rather vanilla with the absence of DeVonte Christopher. He'll undoubtedly have some trick plays up his sleeve for TCU.

Jarrett Anderson is in his second year as co-offensive coordinator for TCU and his 13th year with the program. He led the Horned Frogs to over 38 points per game in 2009 and they're even better this year at over 40 points per game.

Besides having not only the best mustache in college football, Dick Bumpas might be the best defensive coordinator in football. The Frogs are giving up a nation's best 8.67 points per game.

Kalani Sitake knows defense as well as almost any coach in the country. His ability to shuffle guys in and out, make last second adjustments in play calling, and make adjustments as the game go along are tremendous.

WHile Gary Patterson has been here bfore, Kyle Whittingham has been here more often. Not only did he lead the Utes through an undefeated regular season like Gary Patterson did last year, he led them to a BCS Bowl victory AND he was part of Urban Meyer's staff back in 2004 when the Utes went undefeated and defeated Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.

Advantage: Utah

Intangibles

Utah has won 21 straight home games. That's the third longest streak in the nation.

Utah has never lost at home to TCU (3-0).

The weather is going to be very nice with the temperature around 62 degrees at kickoff and sunny.

Advantage: Utah

Prediction

TCU has more talent. TCU has more speed. Utah is more fundamentally sound. Utah has the better coaching staff. This game is going to come down to the play of Jordan Wynn. If he struggles, TCU will run away with this game and win by two or three touchdowns. If he plays well, the Utes will have a great chance to pull off the upset.

The defenses are going to control most of the game with neither team able to put together many long drives. Special teams is going to come huge, especially Shaky Smithson, giving the Utes shorter fields with solid returns.

Neither team has gotten off to great starts this year and that won't change this week as they feel eachother out with TCU holding a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. 3-0 becomes 10-0 early in the second before Utah puts their first touchdown of the game on the board. The Horned Frogs respond just before the half with another field goal to stretch the lead to 6 points at 13-7.

The team with the better coaching staff makes the better adjustments at half-time and the Utes come out quickly and score on their opening second half drive to take a 14-13 lead. TCU responds with a touchdown before the Utes come right back with another touchdown on a long Jordan Wynn pass to DeVonte Christopher and close out the quarter with a 21-20 lead.

A back and forth fourth quarter sees both teams battling for field position, but neither able to get deep into each other's end until TCU breaks through and knocks home a field goal with just over ninety seconds to play. A short kickoff by TCU is returned by Shaky Smithson to almost midfield before Jordan Wynn converts a third down and a fourth down to get Utah into field goal range. Joe Phillips comes on for a 39 yarder with 4 seconds left and is iced twice by Gary Patterson. When the kick finally comes off of Phillips foot, it splits the uprights as time expires sending the Utes to 9-0 as the MUSS rushes the field and Phillips is mobbed by his teammates. Hello number 3 ranking.
Utah 24 TCU 23


Ute Zone Top Stories