Utah 101: Ground war

BETTER LATE THAN never. It was nearly November before the Utes got their inaugural conference victory. But they wasted no time in getting their next two. Now at 6-4, bowl eligible and full of confidence, Utah heads to Pullman -- just in time to catch a blizzard and, Cougar fans hope, a good case of Halliday fever.

Cougars (4-6) vs Utah (6-4)-
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (32,248)

TELEVISION:
Fox College Sports Atlantic

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Utah by 3.5

LAST MEETING:
WSU won 38-21 in 2010 in Salt Lake.

THE SERIES:
Series tied at 6-6.

THE UTES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Jon Hayes, QB: Taking over for the injured Jordan Wynn, Hayes has only thrown for more than 67 yards once in the three game winning streak -- but he hasn't thrown a single interception in that span either. Not overly mobile, he's mostly a caretaker.
John White, RB: Amidst the injury at quarterback, White has put the team on his shoulders and rushed for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, adding another two scores as a receiver. Very quick at 185 pounds, he will be difficult to tackle and should be the primary focus of the Cougar defense.

Overview
Norm Chow is running this offense but it won't look like it. They've operated in a 3-to-1 run pass ratio over the past three games. The Utes will run right over you if you let them, but they usually score off points set up by the other units.

Strategy
It's not complicated, the Cougs must limit the Utah ground yards. Utah won't force the issue but will offer a deliberate and persistent physical attack. They play mistake free football, the Cougs would be wise to do the same. The Coug d-line and linebackers must fill holes and wrap up, limiting yards after contact to a manageable number.

THE UTES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Chaz Walker,LB: Walker is the leader of a sound run defense.
Brian Blechen, S: Blechen, who also played some linebacker, is an active playmaker – he has excellent speed.
Star Lotulelei, DT: A 325-pounder who has torn through o-lines much of the season.

Overview
The Utes run an aggressive, physical, relatively mistake-free 4-3 defense. It ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (19 ppg), No. 1 in rushing defense (2.9 yds per rush) and No. 2 in pass efficiency defense. Head coach Kyle Wittingham is the architect of this group which is better than the sum of its parts.

Strategy
You don't have to score 40 points to win this game. Utah's offense capitalizes off mistakes generated by this defense and special teams. Execute the passing game quickly and deliberately. Protect Connor Halliday and don't put him tough positions where the linebackers can tee-off. This figures to be a war of attrition, so Cougs have to weather any kind of storm and tee off themselves in the second half.

THE UTES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
This is an area that Cougar fans should worry about. Utah's special teams have been flawless this year. They've converted 29-of-30 field goals and average nearly 43 yards per punt. They are near the top of the conference in all kick return and kick coverage areas. They have also blocked three punts on the year.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-Utah is a team that will separate the men from the boys. They've beaten all the weak teams and lost to all the strong ones, and the issue has rarely been in doubt. They have not played a single game decided by less than 9 points.
-Utah is the least penalized team in the conference. Between the refs and special teams, the x-factor is definitely on the Utes side. They do not beat themselves.
-The Cougars victory over ASU put Utah, surprisingly, back into the Pac-12 South hunt. UCLA is back to falling apart and ASU is only 1 game out of reach, but does own the tiebreaker.
-Washington State can gain separation on the scoreboard, the Utes will have to turn to the passing game more which should play even more into WSU's hands. Stop the run, force punts and the Utah defense naturally tires later in the game – that's been the formula to beat Utah. One way to do that, assuming Utah brings effective pressure, will be the short pass to Rickey Galvin, getting him out and space and with the ability to create. Tough yards by Carl Winston, moving the chains, will also be needed.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 31, Utah 28

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