SALT LAKE CITY — This week, the Utes (2-3, 0-3) play the University of Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-1) for the first time in the steel city in program history at 10 a.m. Mountain Time on Saturday. This game seemed near-meaningless at the outset of the season when the Utes’ top priority was the Pac-12 South Division title. Now that that goal is all but out the window and the Utes are now more concerned about bowl eligibility, this game means much more. With that in mind, we’ll look at what the Utes can expect against the Panthers on Saturday.
1. Graham vs. Utah front seven. Ray Graham is one of the best running backs in the nation, rushing for a total of 899 yards on the season (the most in the nation) and averaging 149.3 yards per game (second in the nation). Meanwhile, Utah’s front seven might be the best Graham faces all year. The Utes are 20th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up only 99.4 yards per game. Utah is second in the nation in rushing touchdowns, only having given up two touchdown runs again. The Utes were very stout against the Arizona State rushing attack last week, but abysmal in the second half against Washington and Chris Polk. Something’s got to give on Saturday.
2. Which Pitt team will we see? Two weeks ago, the Panthers shocked just about every Big East expert when they beat then-16th ranked South Florida, 44-17. One week later, they laid an egg, losing to Rutgers, 34-10. This Pitt team has had a couple of close losses to Notre Dame and Iowa, while blowing out Buffalo and slipping by Maine. Yep, Maine. They’ve put up a bunch of points and they’ve left a lot on the board. I’d look for a low scoring game against the Utes, but who knows which Pitt team will roll out of bed Saturday.
3. Into the Hays. Quarterback Jon Hays looked great at times against Arizona State, but he also forced throws that turned into turnovers and left points on the board. He brings certain skills to the table that Jordan Wynn did not, but Wynn was more accurate downfield and smarter with the ball. Hays stepped up in the pocket on several occasions against Arizona State when Wynn would have turned and run away. However, Wynn probably would not have thrown the interception to end the first half or the pick Hays threw midway through the third quarter. How will Hays rebound in his second starting game?
4. Second-half problems. Both of these teams have had second-half problems this season. The Utes have collapsed in the second half two weeks in a row now, and the Panthers gave up four touchdowns in the second half last week against Rutgers. Pitt did the same thing against Iowa, giving up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone to complete their collapse against the Hawkeyes. Either we’re looking at a very ugly second half on Saturday, or one of these trends has to give as well. Who’s going to have the better second half on Saturday? Maybe better put, who’s going to have the least terrible second half?
5. Pressure on Tino. Back in 2005, the Utes sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko nine times. We might see the same thing on Saturday. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri should be seeing lots of red in the backfield this Saturday. The Panthers have allowed more sacks than any other team in the country (28). The offensive line’s two best players are sidelined with injuries, which doesn’t help. Expect the Utes to put pressure on Sunseri. If they can’t, the Utes are in trouble.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". Find more of his blogs at TrevorsTopTens.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TrevorAmicone