Estimated read time: 9-10 minutes
No. 8 (8 BCS, 9 Coaches, 10 AP) Utah (9-0, 5-0 MWC) hosts No. 12 (11 AP and Coaches, 12 BCS) TCU (9-1, 6-0 MWC) in a battle of league unbeatens on Thursday, Nov. 6. Kickoff is 6:00 p.m. MST in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game, which is sold out, will be televised live nationally on CBS College Sports. The theme is a "Blackout" and fans are encouraged to wear black.
Utah is ranked No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches' and the Harris polls and is No. 8 in the new BCS Standings. The Utes are No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. It marks Utah's best BCS standing since the 2004 Utes clinched a No. 6 position.
Utah is 9-0 for just the second time in school history. The 2004 Utes finished the season at 12-0. Dating back to last year's Poinsettia Bowl victory, Utah has won 10 straight games, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak in the country.
Utah is 4-0 all-time in games in which both the Utes and their foe were ranked in the top 25.
Thursday's game features two of the nation's best defenses. TCU (214.5 ypg) and Utah (266.2 ypg) are ranked No. 2 and No. 7 in the nation, respectively, and are 1-2 in the MWC. TCU is No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (10.8) while Utah ranks 18th (17.7).
Utah leads the series with TCU 4-1 and is 2-0 against the Horned Frogs in Salt Lake City.
Senior Brian Johnson has set the school record-holder for wins by a starting quarterback. Johnson, 22-7 as the starter, passed Alex Smith, who went 21-1 from 2003-04.
DID YOU KNOW?
The first loss of Kyle Whittingham's head coaching career was in overtime to TCU (23-20) in 2005. The loss snapped a school-record 18-game Utah win streak that dated back to 2003. Whittingham has won the last two games against TCU ... Whittingham is 2-2 against ranked teams as Utah's head coach. Since he joined the Ute staff as an assistant in 1994, Utah is 9-6 against ranked teams.
Fans attending the sold-out game against TCU this Thursday are encouraged to wear black attire. Approximately 35,000 black rally towels will be distributed as fans enter the stadium. The `Blackout' is sponsored by Under Armour, Coke Zero and FrogZog. The 2008-09 men's basketball team will be introduced at halftime by head coach Jim Boylen.
Senior All-America punter/kicker Louie Sakoda became the most decorated weekly performer in MWC history when he was named MWC Special Teams Player of the Week for the 11th time on Nov. 3. Sakoda broke the old mark of 10 held by BYU quarterback John Beck. It is the fourth weekly citation this year for Sakoda. Last week, Sakoda was named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete and a Draddy Trophy finalist, which comes with an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. Sakoda, also a top-10 finalist for the Lowe's Senior Class Award, is a top-10 semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award (nation's top punter) and a top-20 semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award (nation's top placekicker). He was also chosen as the 2008 Midseason All-America placekicker by CBSSports.com, The Sporting News Today and Rivals.com.
Utah ran its record to 9-0 for just the second time in school history with a 13-10 victory over New Mexico. Brian Johnson became Utah's all-time winningest quarterback by completing 72-percent of his pass attempts (23-32) for 195 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 41 yards. Louie Sakoda scored seven of Utah's 13 points, making field goals of 43 and 38 yards and converting his lone PAT of the game. He also dropped four punts inside the 20-yard line, including a huge play with 1:58 remaining when he pinned the Lobos on their own 1-yard line. Koa Misi and Robert Johnson each had eight tackles to spearhead a Ute defense that shut out the Lobos in the first and fourth quarters. Utah held New Mexico to 100 yards below its season rushing average and limited league-leading rusher Rodney Ferguson to 34 yards--his lowest output of the season.
Fourth-year Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is 33-14 overall and 3-0 in bowl games. He is 6-3 against BCS schools. Since he joined the staff as a Ute assistant in 1994, Utah has won nearly 70-percent of its games (119-55). Utah has played in nine bowl games during Whittingham's tenure--winning eight. Prior to becoming Utah's head coach in 2005, he spent one season as the defensive line coach and 10 years as the defensive coordinator.
OUTSIDE THE LINES
Utah's remaining home games against TCU (Nov. 6) and Brigham Young (Nov. 22) are sold out, which guarantees the 2008 Utes will set a school season attendance record. Only one game this season was not a sellout (Colorado State) and Utah's attendance average after four home games is 45,274--which exceeds the capacity of 45,017-seat Rice-Eccles Stadium. The previous season attendance record was 44,112 set in 2004.
Quotes from Kyle Whittingham's Weekly Press Conference
We anticipated the New Mexico game to be hard fought and physical and it was all that. It is typically no different than that. We played a very good defense - they were well coached. It was senior night and their last home game. Nothing transpired as far as physicality that we didn't anticipate. In breaking the game down, we did not do a bad job of moving the ball, but what we did have was untimely penalties and a turnover in the red zone. Each team had 11 possessions and penalties are drive killers. That was our issue on Saturday and we've got to get that cleaned up. The defense played well, we held New Mexico to half their usual total and held (Rodney) Ferguson to 34 yards. I was very pleased with our defensive effort. Louie Sakoda was player of the week, he made two field goals and pinned the opponent inside the 10 three times. The play of the game was his punt at the 1-yard line with a few minutes left. The odds aren't good for anyone against our defense in that situation. The coverage unit did a great job of downing it. It was positive that we got the victory, that's a tough place to play.
We have to turn our attention rapidly to TCU for a short turnaround. We are using the same model for previous short turnarounds. Today is a Tuesday/Wednesday practice and tomorrow will be a Wednesday/Thursday practice. TCU has no weaknesses and they are playing exceptional football in all three phases of the game. They are leading the conference in several categories and doing a lot of good things. They are a confident football team and are playing well. We have our work cut out for us, but we will be ready. We played with great effort on Saturday and that saved our bacon, because we didn't play poised or intelligently. This week, effort won't be enough. The guys are looking forward to it. We have to play poised, we have to play smart, and it will be a great crowd - what more can you ask for?
We did come out of the game pretty good. We didn't lose anyone, but there is a lot of wear and tear. The run game is a lot more physical than the throw game. We will get some guys back that we didn't have last week - Deshawn Richard and Kepa Gaison.
On punt returns:
We dropped one last week, which was one of two turnovers. We turned the ball over twice. We are looking to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers as much as possible. Brent Casteel and David Reed are two playmakers and we can get them a few more touches each this way - that was our reason for that.. We will continue to work Brent and David back there and will see both in the punt return game.
Key to the game:
Field position will be huge in a game like this. Both offenses are in the top third of the league in just about every category. In my opinion, special teams and turnover margin will play a big role in this game. We haven't done a great job in turnover margin this year.
I have seen a great deal of change from last year to this year in Andy Dalton (quarterback). He did a nice job as a redshirt freshman but didn't have the same command of the offense last year. He is playing well, making good decisions and he runs the option and play action game very well. His confidence level is up.
They have a great end (Jerry Hughes) who is a converted running back and having a tremendous year. He is a game changer and we have to account for him. We have to devise a plan to handle him. They have great speed on defense, they are similar to an SEC defense, speed wise. Every aspect of their defensive core is strong. Pretty impressive.
On Aiona Key:
Special teams is not as involved schematically as the offense. There isn't as much to learn. You can plug guys in much more quickly, and offensively he is increasing his role. The simplicity of special teams lends itself to get guys involved more rapidly. His vertical leap helps. He has a tremendous vertical leap. When we win by three points and he blocks a field goal, that is a vital part of our win.
On Paul Kruger and Koa Misi:
Having a set of bookends is a big advantage for our defense. Coach (Gary) Anderson uses those guys very well. They are both athletic enough to drop back in coverage. They are both having productive years. We have the guys up front to generate a pass rush so we don't have to blitz as much.
On similarities between Utah and TCU:
I see a lot of similarities. We both have speed, offensively we mix the spread in, and there are schematic similarities. We both run the ball very well, there are a lot of similarities between the two offenses. The bottom line is that both teams are having good seasons and each is trying to stay in the (conference) title hunt. It's an important game like any other conference game.
On a short week:
Being at home is a huge advantage for us whether we are in a short week or not. We have a great fan base and it will be standing room only. That place will be packed. We both had away night games this weekend, so there is no big advantage there.
On big games:
Everything is on the line every week of the season. We have to approach this game with the same work ethic and mentality. It's exciting to get our players in the national spotlight, but we have to approach it as business as usual.