When Stanford Has the Ball
Stanford's offense is led by junior quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has had the tough job of filling in the shoes of Andrew Luck as the quarterback at Stanford. And while he may not blow you away while watching him like Luck did, Hogan is a good sound quarterback who is a threat both passing and running the ball. In my opinion, Hogan is not quite in that first tier of PAC-12 QB's yet but is sitting comfortably in that second tier, and is blessed with one of the best offensive lines in college football which is a huge advantage for Hogan and this offense.
The Cardinal haven't followed the trend of college football by running the spread offense the majority of the time, and have stuck to a more traditional offense which is rare to see on the west coast nowadays. What's also rare to see is this "elephant package" that the Cardinal run, which consists of about 800 offensive linemen. When Stanford goes into their elephant package, Utah's defense could be in for a world of hurt, as Stanford has had a lot of success running this package in short-yard situations. It consists of around 3000 pounds of blocking power up front, and Sitake and the Utah defense must come up with an answer to try and slow down the Cardinal when they line up in this very unusual package.
Running backs Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson are both big backs who will get the majority of the touches at running back. Sitting back and watching the offensive line create gaping holes to run through is something the Utes cannot afford Gaffney and Wilkerson to be able to do if they want to stop this offense. While the offensive line is a very talented group and have done a great blocking for the backs this season, they aren't as unstoppable as the majority of people set out to think. Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly have the quickness to get around the edge and cause some problems for the Cardinal up front. If the Utes are able to draw up some blitz packages and get in the backfield often to cause some pressure on Hogan, Utah should have success on the defensive side of the ball. But, if the Utes stay conservative and run the vanilla defense that we have seen them run very often this season, Stanford's offense will move the ball quite effectively against the Utes.
Receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste are two physically gifted wideouts who will present the Utah corners with a tough matchup. Montgomery and Cajuste stand at 6'2 215 and 6'4 230 respectively, and will both have huge games on Saturday if Utah's defense doesn't get pressure on Hogan and allow him to sit back and do his thing in the pocket. While Montgomery is the receiver who draws the most attention and deservingly so, the Utes cannot afford to overlook the other receivers, as they are a very underrated group as a whole.
Overall, I like how the Utes match up against Stanford's offense. While Kyle and Sitake are getting better at defending the spread offenses that the Utes will face almost every week in the Pac-12, both Whittingham and Sitake usually do a much better job at defending a more traditional offensive scheme like Stanford will run. The lack of speed on the defensive side of the ball for the Utes won't be as much of an issue against Stanford as it was against Oregon State and UCLA. Yes Stanford certainly has some great athletes, but not as many as Oregon State and UCLA both had. Stanford is a team who will line up, depend on their offensive line to block very well for Hogan and the running backs, play good sound football, and make very few mistakes. If they are able to do just that, Stanford will win this game by 2+ touchdowns. But if Utah is able to uncover a few weaknesses of this outstanding offensive line of Stanford, and win (or even tie) the battle up front, Utah will have a very good chance at winning this game. I loved the blitzes I saw from the Utes against UCLA, and am hoping to see the same kind of thing thrown at the Cardinal. If Sitake decides to do so, I believe the corner blitz would have a lot of success against this Stanford offense.
When Utah Has the Ball
Which Utah offense are we going to see this week? Having Travis Wilson healthy is a big boost and should help improve the passing game after last week's six interception debacle. Wilson will be better this week, but will it be enough against a tremendous Stanford D?
How is Utah's offensive line going to stop these guys? I have no idea. Poutasi and Aiono have struggled with anyone with speed off the edge this season, and Stanford has plenty of that. They'll need to keep Travis fairly clean and give him enough time to get the ball down the field. Quite the task.
Utah has to run the ball. Has to has to has to. Who will get the bulk of the carries? I'm not sure they coaches even know with the current rotation about as predictable as a North Korean dictator. With the size and physicality that Stanford has up front, Kelvin York is probably the best bet. If he runs like he did last week against UCLA in limited chances, it will be a big boost to the offense.
With Jake Murphy now out for the season, it's Dres Anderson and..........? Sean Fitzgerald and Anthony Denham have been serviceable, but Utah's playable pass catchingdepth is hurting. With the pressure Stanford will likely bring on Wilson and Utah's struggling offensive line, quick outs and slants are likely to be the name of the game against Stanford. I don't expect that we'll see many go routes. Will they be able to hold on to the ball?
What are they facing in Stanford? Arguably the best overall defense in the country, including a front seven that is disciplined, athletic, and dominant. There's not much the can't do. If you thought Wilson was under siege last week against UCLA, just wait until Saturday when Stanford sends wave after wave of elite players.
Stanford's linebacker group could be the best in the nation, highlighted by their experience with three seniors and a junior.
Linebacker Shayne Skov is a bit dinged up, but is expected to play. Skov is an all american talent and will be all over the field. Utah won't run away from him, but Skov will find his way to the ball time and time again. He leads the team with 43 tackles, to go along with 4 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.
Next to Skov is another elite player in outside linebacker Trent Murphy who leads the team with 4 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. At 6-6, 261 pounds, he's a matchup nightmare and probably the defensive player Utah has to be most concerned with. A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters don't get the pub of the other two, but are still spectacular players.
Defensive End Ben Gardner is another elite player that will be putting pressure on Wilson throughout the game. The front 7 as a whole is unbelievable, and likely the biggest test for Utah's offense this season.
If there is a weak link, it's in the secondary. Now, this is a weak link compared to the rest of the defense, as it's still one of the best secondaries in the conference with two all american caliber safeties in Ed Reynolds and Jordan Reynolds. The corners aren't bad either with Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter. Overall, this unit is giving up 260 yards per game through the air.
So how does Utah beat this defense? They won't do it consistently. If there is a game where Travis Wilson needs to be a manager, this is the one. Don't turn it over, find a way to run the ball, and hope that the defense and special teams gives the Utes short fields to work with.
Utah Will Win If.......
Gorringe- The offensive line gives Wilson time to throw and the defense forces 2 to 3 turnovers.
Karren- They win the turnover battle, are able to run the ball with some sort of consistency, and are over 45% on third downs.
Olson- They can get pressure on Kevin Hogan and win the battle in the trenches against the very good offensive line of Stanford. Wining the turnover battle is a must for the Utes.
Swinney- Both lines can play Stanford to a draw or better, the Utes rush for over 170 yards, special teams comes up with a big play that leads to a touchdown, and Stanford plays average or worse.
Gorringe- Stanford 27 Utah 20
Karren- Stanford 24 Utah 14
Olson- Stanford 35 Utah 24
Swinney- Stanford 33 Utah 20
Game Preview: Utah vs Stanford
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