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#5 Utah vs. #3 TCU
Here we go again. The game between these two teams becomes harder and harder to preview. This is what every college football team should dream of. This is a game with more riding on it than ever. It is hard to say that because in 2004, when the Utes were the first team to bust into the BCS by beating BYU, that was pretty big. This game has possible National Championship implications though. Nationally it is recognized as the game of the week, but for fans of the Utes, this could be a shot at football immortality!
It is interesting how some national media won't recognize these two teams (and Boise State). Mark May and Craig James of ESPN continue to be extremely critical of both teams because of their body of work. May said that in his opinion, none of the three non-AQ teams belongs in the conversation. That is hard to believe. Utah, TCU, and Boise State continue to demolish many of their opponents week after week.
Getting back to the big game, what will be the difference? Is it the return game? Who would you rather have, Jeremy Kerley or Shaky Smithson? Which Quarterback would you rather have, Andy Dalton or Jordan Wynn? Which offense and which defense? Is there a head coach that is better than the other? All of these questions are arguable. The difference in the game might just come down to Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah is 5-2 all-time against TCU and 3-0 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The atmosphere in a game this big could come down to how the Utes "Blackout" crowd owns the stadium. Both teams will know that everybody in the nation will be watching, there will be nerves, so can the "MUSS" and company rattle the road team? There will be more than 45,017 in attendance, all having waited for this game the entire season; can they help prove their team belongs? Utah knows this could be their advantage. At the weekly press conference, Head Coach Kyle Whittingham wanted to see ten thousand fans make it to the ESPN College Gameday set. If the fans can force one miscommunication, that could make the difference in the game. The Utes can play free too. They are underdogs in their own home. Kyle Whittingham has probably had the easiest motivation week of his life.
Game planning for this TCU team is a different story though. Here is the quarterback that you are facing:
- Fourth year senior starter
- Nation's leader in wins by an active quarterback (38)
- 9,344 career passing yards
- 60 career passing TD's
- Thrown a TD pass in 17 consecutive games, longest streak in MWC history
- 61% completion rate
Is there a weakness for Dalton?
There was one game that gave his weakness away and that game was the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State last season. TCU came out throwing the ball, or at lease trying to. They went away from what had gotten them to the BCS. The Horned Frogs will not make that same mistake unless Utah makes them one dimensional. The Utes must focus on shutting down TCU's running attack and force Dalton in obvious passing situations. That is a tough task. TCU's running backs are great, and they go three deep. The Frogs offensive line is experienced, but the Utah defensive line is too, and Kyle's guys go 11 deep. The line of scrimmage is critical. The Utes need a push up front that will force TCU to take a step backwards. One step back will make all the difference. That will create panic. Panic creates chaos. Chaos creates turnovers.
What is the Key to Victory for Utah?
The Utes need to take a deep breath. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham has been in big games before, and he has been in huge games - this is the latter. Experience and being at home will help immensely. He can help his guys take it in, enjoy it, and take advantage of it. He has been there before.
Whittingham and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson can help Jordan Wynn relax and take what the defense is giving him. Wynn is a good quarterback, especially when he lets his players help him out. Wynn's playmakers (Jereme Brooks, Shaky Smithson, DeVonte Christopher, and Reggie Dunn) just need the ball to make a play, so just get them the ball. Jordan Wynn has been is some wild situations in his short career at Utah. TCU beat him up last season. He remembers that. He threw an interception against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl and moved on. He has to think play to play, series by series, as cliché as it gets.
This game will be as close as it gets. I think Utah will give up a few big plays, but they will get some of their own as well. I think they will force Dalton into some mistakes that will prove costly. Utah will get the win on their home field and stay unbeaten.