Last weekend the Utah Utes faced off against an FCS opponent in the Weber State Wildcats and did what needed to be done, and then some. The Utes blew out the Wildcats putting up a staggering total of 70 points while only allowing 7. This score line is a great sign for the Utes, but let’s not get carried away. Weber State was a lesser opponent and everybody knew this going into the game. That being said, the Utes still showed that they are a force to be reckoned with. I don’t want to say it, but I am so giddy that I have to. The Utes are looking good, really good.
Travis Wilson has come into his own as a quarterback and has improved vastly since last season, and the questions on defense have been answered by the likes of Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi. The Utes are off to a great start, but this is when the season gets turned up a notch. The Utes open up conference play in their first PAC-12 game of the season this Saturday at Rice Eccles Stadium against the Oregon State Beavers.
Just like the Utes, the Beavers started off the season against two “lesser” opponents in Eastern Washington and Hawaii. However, unlike Utah, they came out of these games 1-1 after a devastating loss at home to FCS team Eastern Washington in their season opener. After that loss they went on to post a convincing 33-14 win over Hawaii. It’s difficult to use these two games to gauge just how good the Beavers are this season because they send such mixed signals. The Beavers were ranked in the pre-season, so they must have some talent on their team, but after those two results the jury is still out.
One thing we do know for sure is that the Beavers have already lost some important players to injuries. Offensive linemen Roman Sapolu and Grant Enger are out, along with linebacker Michael Doctor. Utah’s big and strong defensive line should be able to assert themselves this game due to the lack of experience and depth at the offensive lineman position.
On the defensive side of things, the Ute’s pass defense is going to have to have a good game for them to come out with the W. The Beaver’s rushing game has only accounted for a quarter of their offensive yards, revealing that they are a pass-happy team. Sean Mannion, the Beaver’s 6’5″ quarterback, has accumulated 794 passing yards in the first two games of the season, ranking him second nationally in that category. The Ute’s pass rush is going to have to put constant pressure on Mannion to help out the inexperienced cornerbacks that Utah have.
The Beaver’s defense will be the most stout that Utah has seen this season, giving Travis Wilson and Co. some reasons to lose sleep before this game. So far I have been thoroughly impressed by the offense, but on Saturday they face their first PAC-12 defense of the season. The Beavers held Hawaii to just 239 yards of total offense, showing that their defensive unit is nothing to laugh at. I expect the Utah offense to keep rolling in this game, but after being a Ute fan for so many years I have also learned to expect the unexpected.
This is a massive game for Utah and in my opinion it may be the biggest game of the season. With a win, the Utes show they can compete in the PAC-12 with the best of them and it would also keep the team momentum going into some tough (but winnable) games they have on the horizon. With a loss, the momentum they gained coming off of the 2-0 start would be shattered, and the critics would be up in arms over the Ute’s ability to hang with the big boys in the PAC-12. Even with all of the pressure on the Utes tomorrow night I am still expecting a 3rd straight home victory. I am predicting a somewhat low scoring game with the Utes winning 21-17.