Guest Writer Nate Mathis (@) breaks down the upcoming Utah/Stanford match up.
Utah vs Stanford Preview
Coming off of their largest margin of defeat all season and a two game losing streak, the Utes will look to right the ship this weekend as they head to Palo Alto to take on the struggling Stanford Cardinal in a Pac-12 showdown that will pit the conference’s two best defenses against each other. Unlike the Oregon Ducks who rank towards the bottom of the country in most defensive statistical categories, the Cardinal boast a total defense ranked 5th in the country. The inconsistent Utah offense will need to put together perhaps their best offensive game plan of the season in order to put enough points on the board to walk out of Stanford Stadium with a win on Saturday night.
The good news for the Utes is that they are coming off of their best passing performance of the conference season against Oregon, despite only scoring 27 points. Travis Wilson completed 18 of his 28 passes for 297 yards while averaging 10.6 yards per completion to go along with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Despite Kaelin Clay making perhaps the most costly mistake of the season for the Utes with his goal line fumble, he had his best receiving game of the season with 5 receptions for 152 yards. While Booker rushed for only 65 yards (his second fewest total of the season) he found himself with a total of 175 yards thanks to 110 through the air on 8 completions.
The Utes will need to establish a balanced offensive attack against the all-around stingy defense of Stanford. The Cardinal are giving up a grand total of 16 points per game, 110 rushing yards per game (3 yards per rush), and 170 passing yards per game (5.2 yards per attempt). Much like Arizona State was able to smother Utah’s offense by stacking the box to shut down Booker, Stanford will look to do the same come Saturday afternoon. Utah must find a way to keep the Cardinal defense honest by taking advantage of deep ball opportunities, as well as providing Booker with the necessary run blocking to do sufficient damage on the ground.
Stanford’s offense, similar to Utah’s, has struggled to find consistency over the course of the season. Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has been underwhelming this year, ranking just 8th in the Pac-12 with 12 touchdowns, and 9th in the conference with only 2051 passing yards to go along with 7 interceptions. With Utah being the fifth ranked opponent that Stanford has faced this year, it’s worth noting their offense has averaged just 12 points a game against ranked opponents (while losing all four of those games).
Utah’s main priority on defense will be to slow down star receiver and return man Ty Montgomery who leads the team in receptions (56), total yards (1216), and yards per reception (9.8). He is also averaging over 18 yards per punt return while returning two punts for a touchdown. Many Ute fans remember him for his kick-off return for a touchdown in RES last season.
Utah will be looking to win their fourth road game and fourth conference game of the season, while keeping alive the very real possibility of winning 10 games. With the unexpected success of the Utes this season (becoming bowl eligible just 7 games into the season) anything less than a 2-1 record to close out the regular season would be a disappointment in many fan’s eyes. How this Utah team responds against Stanford on Saturday will set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Look for Utah’s relentless pass rush and overall staunch defense to be able to keep the struggling Stanford offense on lockdown this weekend. Between Phillips, Booker, Clay, and Wilson, the Utah offense and special teams should be able to put enough points on the board to create enough separation for the Utes to pick up their 7th win of the season.
Prediction: Utah 24-17