Saturday, Nov 6, 2010, 1:30 PM MT
Television: CBS College Sports -- Craig Bolerjack (PBP), Aaron Taylor (color), Brooke Olzendam (sideline)
Radio: TCU/ISP Sports Network -- WBAP 820 AM and 96.7 FM, KTCU 88.7 FM, GoFrogs.com (Yahoo), Sirius 122, XM 143 [Brian Estridge (PBP), John Denton (color), Jeff Williams (sideline)]
After months of patiently waitng we are on the eve of one of the most highly anticipated in-conference games in the history of the MWC. Both teams enter this weekend with impressive top 5 BCS rankings which was expected of TCU who opened the season at #6 in the AP poll, but not so much of Utah who began the season in the "others receiving votes" category and made a sherpa-like climb up the rankings. With TCU and Utah near the peak of the mountain they now must engage in an epic "there's not enough room here for the both of us" type battle and someone is going to get thrown off the cliff while the other continues to ascend, kind of like "Cliffhanger" but even more awesome (tough to believe I know).
Both teams look impressive on paper and each ranks among the top teams in the nation statistically with TCU having the edge defensively and Utah getting the nod on offense. I don't want to get too bogged down in statistics but if that is your cup of tea please take a gander at the statistical comparison chart that our friends over at BlockU have compiled. It is a shame that this is likely the last time the two teams will meet in the regular season because for the third year in a row this matchup has not only MWC championship implications but BCS bowl game implications. The winner of this matchup in 2008 and 2009 were each crowned champions and given the right to play in January under the bright lights with Utah in the Sugar Bowl in 2008, and TCU to the Fiesta Bowl in 2009. The winner of this game will be similarly positioned with the national championship game in realistic striking distance and the Rose Bowl as a likely fallback.
Like each of the past two matchups homefield advantage is going to play a major part in this game with the one difference being that for the first time in three years this game will be played under the sun instead of under the lights. While it might not seem to be that big of a deal on the surface a daytime crowd isn't quite as hostile as it is when the sun goes down, there are a myriad of reasons for this with the most obvious being the amount of time allotted for libation. The more temperate "The Muss" is on Saturday the less of an edge the Utes will possess, and in this battle any edge than can be exploited is priceless.
No matter the amount of imbibing that gets accomplished Saturday morning in SLC the Frog offense can take matters into their own hands and silence the Rice-Eccles crowd by getting out to a fast start and putting points and pressure on the Utes immediately. This isn't always the modus operandi of the Frogs who have come out slow in more than a few games so far this season, with the most memorable being the game in Fort Collins in which the Frogs didn't score a single touchdown in the first half of play agaisnt the CSU Rams. Grizzled veteran and 4th year starting quarterback Andy Dalton is going to have to be sharp from the starting gun if the Frogs are going to jump out to an early lead, lucky for him he has talented backs like Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker that will help to shoulder the load. Wesley gashed the Utes last year for 137 rushing yards on 12 carries, for those of you who aren't math majors that is well over 10 yards a carry (11.4). Tucker, who is the Robin to Wesley's Batman, had a similar outing against the Utes in 2009 with 68 yards on 8 carries and 2 touchdowns. If the Frog offensive line can get the run game rolling early on against the Ute's #14 ranked rush defense then Dalton should be able to dink, dunk, and dash all over the field. I was at Falcon Stadium this weekend watching the Utes and I have no doubt that this is a team that the Frogs can run on.
On the other side of the ball the #1 ranked Horned Frog defense is going to have their hands full against an explosive and diverse Ute offense that is putting up 45 points a game, ranking 3rd in the nation. The two defensive keys for the Frogs are going to be stopping running back Matt Asiata up the middle, and getting a consistent pass rush from the front four. Earlier this year SMU running back Zach Line displayed to the nation that TCU is vulnerable to power backs up the middle out of a spread attack, and don't think for a minute that Kyle Whittingham didn't notice. To make matters worse TCU's defensive interior is missing senior nose tackle Kelly Griffin, who is out for the season with a broken ankle, so look for Utah to try and exploit the weakened defensive interior.
When the Utes came to Fort Worth in 2009 quarterback Jordan Wynn was making his second career start, and while he performed admirably, TCU's 4-2-5 defense gobbles up inexperienced qb's for breakfast. With another year under his belt and the crowd on his side Wynn is looking forward to his next and final crack at the Frogs, "I'm pretty motivated," Wynn said. "It's going to be a lot of fun Saturday." How much fun Wynn has is entirely up to TCU defensive ends Wayne Daniels and Stansly Maponga, the more time Wynn has in the pocket the more apt he is to deliver the completion and something tells me that coverage sacks are going to be hard to come by against this Utah receiving corps. If TCU can get a steady pressure on the largely immobile Wynn then his youth will probably get the best of him and he'll force some throw's against TCU's swarming defensive backfield, but if they can't this game will be a track meet.
These squads are just as evenly matched on special teams as they are on offense and defense as each quad has an electric playmaker on special teams, TCU has Jeremy Kerley, and Utah has the aptly named Shaky Smithson. I think both coaches are too proud to kick it away but if they are smart Saturday will be filled with lots of squibs and punts out of bounds. A special teams touchdown in a game like this is a momentum changer that would be hard to recover from for either team. Speaking of special teams TCU's Ross Evans will be coming back to Salt Lake City in search of redemption. Many put TCU's 2008 loss to Utah squarely at the feet of the then freshman kicker who missed two field goals in the waning minutes that could have iced the game. While I don't think the loss was anymore the fault of Evans than it was the defense's who gave up an 80 yard touchdown drive to end the game or of the offense who didn't score in the second half. But regardless I'm sure the loss has stuck with Evans and his chance at redemption will be an interesting storyline to watch tomorrow.
Any way that you cut it this game is about as evenly matched as two teams could possibly be, but I have to give the edge to the team with the more experienced quarterback, 24-20 Frogs.
P.S. Please excuse the typos, my editor is on vacation and it's Friday night.