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FORT WORTH, TEXAS -- No matter how you say it, this is the biggest game of this football season in the state of Utah. The #14 University of Utah travels to Fort Worth to take on TCU, the #4 team in the BCS standings.
The nation is well advised of the game's importance. ESPN College Gameday has chosen Fort Worth for this week's marquee game and they will be televising their broadcast live from Amon G. Carter Stadium. CBS C will also host a pregame show live from TCU. This is a match up boasting 2 ranked teams, 2 teams that are undefeated in conference play and 1 team whose hopes to crash the BCS party ride on this game.
TCU has always been a team that is creeping up in the BCS standings the last few years, especially last season. They have always been feared as a team that is dangerous because of their overall athleticism and team speed. They keep knocking at the BCS door only to have it shut on them late in the season.
About the Horned Frogs
So what does this Horned Frog team have that the other teams haven't had in the past few years? The answer is offense. Gary Patterson has always had a defense that was among the best in the country, and in the last few years, his defenses have been nothing short of elite. This year is no different. TCU's defense is ranked 1st in the Mountain West Conference and 7th in the nation in rushing defense, 2nd in the conference and 4th in the NCAA in passing defense, 1st in the MWC and 3rd in the country in total defense, and 1st in the MWC and 5th in the country in scoring defense.
Those are absolutely elite numbers, but listen to some of these numbers on the offensive end of the football. TCU is 2nd in the MWC and 6th in the country in rushing offense, 1st in total offense and T-6th in total offense, 1st in the MWC and 6th in the nation in scoring offense. The only numbers that are not extraordinary are the passing offense numbers. They are 6th in MWC and 66th in the nation in passing offense. That number is a product of a team that has blown out most of their opponents and kills the clock at the end of games. Perhaps TCU doesn't have the passing offense statistically, but Junior Andy Dalton is the 4th most efficient quarterback in the country with a rating of 162.7.
The part of the game that really shreds opponents is in Special Teams. Jeremy Kerley is a special athlete. He is first in punt return average and 1st in kick return average in the Mountain West Conference. He has one of the most exciting punt returns this year in the game against Colorado State.
So, those are all the things that TCU does really well and I haven't even mentioned Jerry Hughes, the Horned Frogs Defensive End. As of Thursday morning, I was watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" and draft gurus Todd Mcshay and Mel Kiper Jr. were discussing Hughes. Both Mcshay and Kiper, Jr. raved about Hughes and believe him to be a 2nd round draft pick this next NFL draft. That is what the University of Utah football team has to look forward to this weekend in Texas. But make no mistake about it; the Utes are looking forward to this game.
Utah comes into this game having put together their best offensive game of their season. Jordan Wynn had almost 300 yards in his first career start as quarterback, Eddie Wide III had his 6th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, a school record, and it looks as if Utah is hitting their so-called stride going into the final 3 games of the season.
The Utes are 5-1 all-time against TCU, with the one loss coming in overtime in 2005. Utah has dominated this matchup and TCU knows it. Utah is 7-0 all-time in games when both they and their opponent are ranked in the AP poll. These are definitely some quick hits and stats, but they are no fluke. Utah has always played huge in huge games.
There are many reasons why this is a big game for Utah and not for the reasons that the typical fan is thinking of may realize. Naturally the Utes want to get to another BCS game, which remains a long shot even if they win this game - a real long shot. Sure Utah wants the great exposure on national television - what team wouldn't? Of course the Utes want to win this game to get the inside track on the Mountain West Conference title, however, one of the major subheadings of this giant game that should not go unnoticed is the recruiting territory.
In the past few years, Utah has been recruiting heavily in Texas. Many of the players on the team will have family and friends at this game. Utah will most likely have some kids on the sideline that they are trying to recruit. It's definitely a game within the game. Every time that Utah keeps winning against nationally ranked teams helps them out in the year-round recruiting effort. What a huge win this could be on so many levels.
The other glaring game within the game is Utah being huge underdogs. Utah started the week as low as 16-point underdogs and as high as 20-point underdogs. TCU should be the favorite, but with the way these two teams have played each other in recent years, that is a massive differential and the Utes know it and they do not want to be a part of that.
Utah is making it hard for TCU to game plan. Similar to a week ago, the Frogs only have one and a half games of Jordan Wynn to go off of. The game could open up slightly for the Utes because of the fact that Wynn likes to throw the ball 15-20 yards down the field, and sometimes even longer than that. Those routes take longer to develop and that could pose problems for Utah's Offensive line. The longer that they have to protect against the Horned Frogs pass rush, the likelier TCU is to sack Wynn. Utah needs to stay out of obvious passing situations. When Utah gets in 2nd down and 4 yards, or 3rd down and 2 yards, the more dangerous Jordan Wynn could become.
What do the Utes need to do to beat TCU?
I hate to make this as simple as it sounds, but I believe that this game comes right down to the running game. Utah must stop TCU's rushing attack and make the Horned Frogs one-dimensional.
On exactly the other side, Utah must keep running the ball to keep some pressure off of freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn. If Eddie Wide III can run for a 7th consecutive 100-yard game, with some more help from Sausan Shakerin and maybe some more help from Shaky Smithson, Utah can win the game.
Both TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson and Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham both acknowledge that this game is so even because both teams have the same caliber athlete. TCU doesn't have the huge speed advantage they do against other teams they play. Utah matches them. These games are always close, and the Utes have figured out a way to beat the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth before. Having said that, this is probably the biggest game in TCU history. We are in for a good one Saturday at 5:30 MT.
Follow the game on KSL.com by reading the live Game Blog beginning at 5:00 p.m.