The Utah Utes return to conference play after their 58-10 confidence builder at Utah State last week. The game did not start out pretty, with Utah fumbling a punt and giving the Aggies their first and only touchdown of the game, but it ended well. The Utes have to be grateful that quarterback Brian Johnson was out of the game for most of the 4th quarter, and that most of the other starters got a nice rest as well.
What did we learn about Utah vs. Utah St.?
The next thing is that Matt Asiata is becoming the go-to running back. It is so valuable to have multiple running backs, but what is nicer is to have a guy that is almost guaranteed to get 4 or 5 yards. The 3rd thing is that the defense is good. Gary Anderson has plugged guys in that defensive line and it has worked. They haven't had the stiffest of competition the last couple of weeks, but the bottom line is they have done their job. They have stopped the other teams offense to be the nations eighth ranked defense. Whether they have played anybody or not, the idea is to stop the other guys and the Utes are doing that.
What questions remain about Utah?
The questions that remain are correctable, and always seem to be with the Utes. The Utes are a highly penalized team. It seems they are in good situations when a fault start, or delay of game creeps up right when they are about to put an opponent away. It started early in the Michigan game with penalties in the red zone. It is a good thing they have Louie Sakoda to bail them out, but those have to be making Head Coach Kyle Whittingham crazy. Heading into Colorado Springs to take on the Falcons is scary for that reason. The Air Force Academy is so precise and they execute so well that the Utes cannot bail them out. There cannot be situations like 3rd down and 4 yards, with the Utes jumping offsides to give the Falcons a first down. If that happens often, the Utes will be 3-1 and wishing. Mistakes and penalties are the biggest questions for this team.
What can Utah expect from Air Force?
The Utes can simply expect one of the toughest games of the year. In sports, there are teams that give other teams fits. There are weird match-up problems that take over. For example: The Utah Jazz has been in the upper echelon of NBA teams the last couple of years. They have owned the Detroit Pistons sweeping the season series the last 2 years. In contrast, the Jazz has gone 1-4 in the last 2+ seasons against the Charlotte Bobcats. Explain that! The simple answer is that the Air Force Falcons present major match-up problems with the Utes (even in Basketball). The Utes will be severely bigger on the offensive and defensive lines. The Utes are more athletic at possibly every position on the football field, however the Falcons will be quick, they will execute, and they will be disciplined. Head Coach Troy Calhoun has injected new energy into the Air Force program, opening up the offensive playbook, a little. In 2007, many of the big plays were via the pass. This year they will call pass plays, however, judging from last week, I don't know if they will unless they get down big early, as they did not complete 1 pass. Quarterback Shea Smith was 0-7 in the game against Houston, but the Falcons won. What the Falcons did have was 380 yards rushing, 8 people carried the ball, and nobody had over a hundred yards. That tells me that they have a balanced attack and the defense has to play assignment football every play or they will get burned.
What can we expect from Utah vs. Air Force?
One area that the Utes will have going for them this week is that they will have quarterback Brian Johnson. That will automatically help. Last year Tommy Grady was trying to lead the Utes in his first career start against one of the most disciplined teams in the country. That didn't work out, although Ute fans can't forget they had a chance to win the game, except Daryl Poston missed the perfectly blocked hole off tackle to the right. Having Brian Johnson will automatically bring stability. The more the Utes keep the Falcons offense off the field, the more the game will be in hand. The Utes will look to start with the run and keep the clock running. Both Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata will get plenty of carries to try to wear down a smaller defense. The Utes should control this game offensively as the Falcons don't have the athletes to stay with the Utes, however the Utah-Air Force match-up is always interesting. Brent Casteel will also be looking to have a good game as he was injured in the game against Air Force in 2007.
The Utes have gone 4 and 1 in the last 4 games against Air Force.
This is also the first time the Utes have started 3-0 since 2004.
The Utes have not lost in Colorado Springs since 2001.
The Utes are ranked #20 in the USA Today Coaches' poll and the AP poll.
Look for the Utes to have the Punt return problems solved. Air Force capitalized on any mistake, let alone big mistakes. The Utes should control this game if they play a clean game. The more penalties and mistakes they make, the more they will keep Air Force in the game. The defense will be ready to stay with assignments and they will keep the Falcons to a respectable rushing number. The Utes should come out of this one and keep their BCS Hopes for 2008 alive.