TCU (3-1) @ Utah (3-2)

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Date & Time: Thursday, October 5th, 2006
TV: Versus.
Radio: AM 700 The Zone
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
All-time series: Utah leads 2-1
Last meeting: 2005 (TCU 23, Utah 20)

Gut check time, Utah! You want to win the conference? Win Thursday night. You want to regain fan respect? Win Thursday night. You want to prove last Saturday's terrible loss to Boise Freaking State was a fluke? Win Thursday night. This is your season, this is your career Coach and you better toughen up and go out and beat TCU. You've heard of season changing performances, how about program defining moments? That's exactly what Utah faces Thursday night and it's not going to be an easy battle.

Texas Christian, on the heels of their embarrassing loss to TDS a week ago, enters this game with hopes of regaining some control in this conference race. Like Utah, if the Frogs lose, they're done. This is a statement game for both programs and neither can afford a loss. Both programs have also struggled on offense, while their defense has been pretty competent over the past few weeks. That means either we're in for a dominate defensive performance, or one offense will wilt, setting up a short field for the other. If this happens, like it did against Boise State for Utah, the team that fails to curb the offensive turnovers will lose. Looking at the ability of the offense, that probably will be Utah.

TCU's offense has looked rather unimpressive this season, however it hadn't been much of a problem until their game against TDS last week because their defense had carried them. Now the Frogs are looking for answers and will need to adjust because Utah's defense is actually fairly good -- too bad their offense is in the same boat as TCU's. That offense may take another hit this Thursday as starting quarterback Jeff Ballard is doubtful for the Utah game. If he does not start against Utah, he'll be replaced by red shirt freshman Marcus Jackson. It's also being reported that tailback Aaron Brown will not play. Brown has been TCU's leading rusher this season and will be a big loss for an already average TCU offense.

TCU's defense on the other hand is a beast. They held Texas Tech's explosive offense to 3 points three weeks ago and while they couldn't keep TDS' offense in check, they've done a solid job all season long. With Utah's problems on offense, it isn't surprising to see how this game could become ugly fast. TCU has given up only 13.5 PPG on average, which leads the conference. Their passing defense isn't the best, 7th in the conference, however their run defense is the strong point of this defense. They rank 1st in the conference, only allowing 183-yards on the season. That's an important stat because the Utes have struggled to run the ball this season. Well not struggled, just really forgot it's a possible scenario for their offensive scheme.

Utah's offense will revolve around Ratliff's ability to regain his confidence and bounce back from last week's terrible performance. If he struggles early, I doubt he will be able to shake it off and return to the solid play we were all hoping for this season. However if he comes out early and quickly puts up a touchdown, he may regain that confidence lost last week. But Utah's offense will need to keep the turnovers in check, or this game will end early. Giving TCU a short field plays right into their offensive problems and positions them to make scores they normally would not be capable of making with having to drive the length of the field.

On the defensive end, the Utes are aided with Brown sitting out and if Ballard does not start, their offense may be a bit beat up. The Utes defense can focus on TCU's young offensive line, putting pressure on Ballard/Jackson. If they can curb the Frogs passing game and keep the running in line, the Utes defense should have no problem keeping Utah into the game. Whether the Utes actually complete this task of staying in the game, or even winning it, will rely on the offense -- which may not be such a good thing.

I thought last Saturday's game against Boise State would be epic and now I'm tempering my expectations. TCU is good and much better than Utah. If TCU loses it will because their offense struggles and puts Utah in win-win situations. However I think the Frogs control the game through a solid running game and a passing attack that is conservatively used. Utah's offense isn't good and Ratliff is not the quarterback to lead this offense. Because of that, especially against TCU's stingy defense, I expect some bad turnovers that will cost the defense the needed field position to win this game. If TCU's offense can control turnovers, they should have no difficulty winning Thursday night.  

Utah wins if... Ratliff bounces back and actually proves he has the confidence and leadership to lead this team. If Utah can somehow produce some offense, they could win this game. But it's producing the offense that has been a problem for Utah this season. Ratliff has not looked sharp and against a good defense, he's wilted faster than a flower in winter. Ratliff needs to step up and lead this team, or Utah's season ends Thursday night.

TCU wins if... They capitalize on Ratliff's mistakes. Ratliff has not played a mistake free game this season and Boise State proved Saturday that against good defenses, Ratliff just is not a good quarterback. If TCU steps up and forces Ratliff into making bad passes, the game is over because the Frogs will have the short field needed to get their offense in the game.

What will happen... Utah's offense continues to struggle and TCU gets the ball with great field position because of it. The Frogs should win and I expect them to. Whether Utah keeps it close however will be the bigger question.

Keys to the game:

  • There is only one key to this game and it's Ratliff. This team will either live or die with his ability and if he struggles Thursday, Utah will find it very difficult to win.
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