Game Preview: Northern Colorado at Utah

The Utes open up the season against a team that was winless in 2011

Facts And Factors

Utah (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12) hosts Northern Colorado (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) in the season opener for both teams on Thursday, Aug. 30 at 5:15 p.m. MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised nationally on the Pac-12 Networks (in Utah, Comcast channel 757/HD and 37/SD). Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com) and SIRIUS 128.

Utah and Northern Colorado are playing in the first football game ever televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Utah leads the series with Northern Colorado 2-0 in games played back in 1936 and 1937.

Utah is 34-0 all-time against current Big Sky Conference schools. The Utes opened the 2011 season with a 27-10 victory over Big Sky member Montana State.

Utah was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South in the 2012 preseason media poll.

Advantage: Utah

When Utah Has The Ball

It's a new era for the Utah offense with Brian Johnson now at the helm and implementing many of the wrinkles that he used as a player in his time a Utah just a few years ago. The offense will be more dynamic than last year, due in part to Johnson opening things up a bit, and the return of starting QB Jordan Wynn. With Wynn healthy, the Utes can now spread the passing game around, and take more shots downfield. With receivers like Devonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott, and Luke Matthews, all big, strong, fast receivers, going up against a Northern Colorado secondary with all four players under 6 feet tall, the Utes may end up having a field day through the air.

On the ground, it will be the John White show in the first half, with the Utes' all time single season rusher making a push for 100 yards by halftime against a Northern Colorado run defense that gave up 170 yards per game in 2011. If the Utes have a comfortable lead by the half, and they should, Jarrell Oliver and Kelvin York will get the bulk of the carries and will be able to gain valuable game experience. Oliver and York are two bruising backs who will pound the middle of the defense for five yards at a time.

Northern Colorado didn't stop anybody last season, giving up just shy of 35 points per game and they'l be breaking in six new starters. Against a Utah offensive line that outweighs them significantly across the board, the defensive line is going to get pushed back often and have trouble getting to Jordan Wynn, even with two new starting tackles in Percy Taumoelau and Miles Mason. This is a great tune up game for Utah with their current tackle situation in that both players are first time starters at the position, and the coaches can work in a few younger guys to see how they perform under the bright lights.

The linebackers may be the strongest unit on the defense, led by. Middle linebacker Clarence Bumpas is another good one, coming off of a tremendous year in 2011 with 145 tackles, including 10.5 for loss. Outside linebacker Leilon Whillingham is a transfer from Central Florida who was a Utah offeree just two years ago.

Overall, don't expect Utah to open up the offense too much, not wanting to reveal too much for next week's tougher match-up in Logan.

When Northern Colorado Has The Ball

Northern Colorado's strength, if you can call it one, is in the passing game. They're going to run the spread and pass around 65% of the time. Quarterback Seth Lobato returns and he's a big kid at 6-5, 230 pounds who threw for over 2,400 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year. Lobato has a decent receiving corps around him with Jace Davis, Dominic Gunn, and Chris Morris all back in 2012. Davis reeled in 53 balls for over 900 yards and 7 touchdowns while Gunn and Morris combined for 76 catches for 800+ yards and 7 touchdowns. Davis and Morris have good size, while Gunn is a burner that will try to stretch the defense. The Utes shouldn't have much trouble matching up with them though with corners Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy. Eric Rowe will lead the safety group with Quade Chappuis filling in for the suspended Brian Blechen. The only way Northern Colorado hits 200 yards through the air is if they can break one or two long ones in the second half against the Utah backups.

The Northern Colorado offensive line is a veteran group with four senior starters joined by a freshman at left tackle in Sean Palinckx, but they're light across the board coming in at an average weight of just over 288 pounds. The Utah defensive line has a comparable average weight and should have their way throughout the game. Star Lotulelei and company should dominate the line of scrimmage and anything over 50 yards rushing will be disappointing. The pass rush should be able to muster at least 3 sacks while helping force a minimum of 2 turnovers.

At the running back spot, leading rusher Quentin Hilldreth returns. Hilldreth ran for only 43 yards per game in 2011 and just under 400 on the season. He'll be hard pressed to reach his average from last year against a Utah defensive line and linebacking group that constitutes arguably the best front 7 in the Pac 12. New middle linebacker VJ Fehoko will anchor those linebackers along with a slew of players including Jared Norris, Jason Whittingham, Dave Fagergren, Trevor Reilly, and LT Filiaga. They're an athletic, hard hitting group that will be int the backfield all day.

Expect the Utes to work mostly out of their base 4-3 for much of the game. They worked a lot on their nickel package in fall camp, but against Northern Colorado, it's doubtful that they'll throw many different looks out there.

Advantage: Utah

Special Teams

Sean Sellwood is one of the top punters in the Pac 12, while Northern Colorado will be breaking in a new starter in senior Mason Pucket. The Utes may send the house a few times trying to get to the likely jittery Pucket.

Coleman Peterson returns and the Utes' kicker and could compete for all conference honors after making 18 of 25 last season. Northern Colorado's was 9 of 14 in 2011.

Reggie Dunn and Devonte Christopher will get the first shots on kick returns, an area that the Utes would like to improve on from last season. Both have the speed to break one and this would be a great opportunity to do so. Charles Henderson was solid returning punts in 2011 before his injury averaging 11.6 yards per return. Dominic Gunn will handle both duties for Northern Colorado and had a 94 yard kickoff return for a TD last year.

Advantage: Utah

Intangibles

The game is at Rice-Eccles and it's going to be hot. Temperature at kickoff is expected be 92 degrees with a slight chance of rain and mild winds. Northern Colorado has lost 11 straight games and 17 of their last 18. Utah has won their last four season openers.

Advantage: Utah

Prediction

This is a warm up for the Utes. A scrimmage. Get their timing down against someone they aren't familiar with and let the new guys get some reps. Jordan Wynn should be able to complete over 70% of his passes and go for over 250 yards in 3 quarters. John White may not hit 100 yards because he might not get more than 15 carries. Overall, the team will go over 200 yards rushing, 300 yards passing, and put this one away early in the second quarter with the only second half question being whether or not the Utes can hold on for the shutout. A late score by Northern Colorado against the backups will prevent that, but year 2 in the Pac 12 will be off to a good start.

Utah 52 Northern Colorado 7

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