Date & Time: October 17th, 2009, 8:00 MST
TV: the mtn.
Radio: Kall 700
Location: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
All-time series: Utah leads 12-2
Last meeting: 2008, Utah 42, UNLV 21
Really, all this preview has to say is 2007 in big bold letters and I think it'll be clear enough and to the point.
I won't do that, of course, but it's hard to imagine how one loss could bring about so much good. I say this because since leaving Las Vegas after that 27-0 defeat, Utah has only lost twice since (BYU in '07 and Oregon in '09). That is a remarkable stretch and it's even more remarkable when you realize just how low the program felt after being humbled in Nevada that disastrous September night.
What's interesting is how different the paths have been for Mike Sanford and Kyle Whittingham since the Rebels' victory. Sanford essentially called it program defining and it was supposed to be what finally signaled their rebirth. Yet they wouldn't win again that season and after showing a glimmer of life last season, Sanford is hanging by a thread.
On the opposite side of the field, though, the game marked the lowest point for Whittingham. It was a moment that left many Ute fans thinking their head coach was hanging by a thread. Utah would rebound to win seven straight before falling to BYU in the closing seconds of their game that year and then would rattle off sixteen straight until they eventually lost to Oregon.
But that's the past. What happened in 2007 isn't relevant anymore. It might have been last year when these teams hooked up in Salt Lake (a 42-21 domination by the Utes), but it won't play much of a role Saturday. Sure, I expect those players who were on that team to remember the loss, but this is different. It's different because so much has changed in terms of perception that it's hard to really hold a grudge against a team and a coach that are fading fast.
So when these two teams take the field Saturday, 2007 will probably be the furthest thing from Sanford and Whittingham's mind. That means it will come down to the play on the field and while I doubt Utah will overlook the Rebels after what happened in 2007, they probably won't feel all that intimidated by them, either.
And why should they? This is a team that has given up 122-points in their last two games. To put that in perspective, in five games, the Utes have given up only 93-points. UNLV might just have the worst - or at least most vanquished - defense Utah will see this season.
Which should be good news for the Utes because it does finally seem like they're getting it together on the offensive end.
Terrance Cain had a suburb game against the Colorado St. Rams and though there are questions surrounding Utah's banged up running game, Eddie Wide looks like a keeper. With how bad the Rebles look on defense, this just might be everyone's coming out party on the offensive end. Expect a lot of yards, a lot of points and a lot of fun.
Now on the other side of the ball, things are a bit different. UNLV does actually have a good offense. It might not be as scary as it looked a few weeks ago, but they can score - at least some of the time.
Leading that offense is quarterback Omar Clayton. Against BYU last week, he threw for 252-yards and two touchdowns. However, he also had two interceptions, which is the third time (and third straight game) he's done that this season. If it happens again against the Utes, I don't see how they overcome that.
With the realization Utah lost to a similarly bad UNLV team in 2007, I'm always going to be a bit nervous when Vegas rolls around. Not to say I doubt their growth since that game, but it does weigh on my mind. So I'm not going to tempt fate by suggesting this is a game the Utes can't lose.
With that said, I believe it would take a miracle for Utah to lose this game.
I say this not just because of the talent level (though that might be the largest factor), but because of the fact it does appear the Utes are finally finding themselves. They've had two decent offensive outings the last two games and their defense is looking as good as advertised. Add that with the fact UNLV is coming off an embarrassing and demoralizing last two weeks and you have a recipe for a blowout.
Since weather doesn't look like it'll be a factor, Utah does not have any excuse for not piling up the points. If they are a legitimate top-25 team, then consistency will be key and a large margin here would establish that consistency.
Utah wins if...They don't overlook UNLV. Pretty simple.
UNLV wins if...Utah overlooks UNLV. Pretty simple.
What will happen...Utah doesn't overlook UNLV and Cain continues to impress. I expect Utah to really have no trouble pushing the ball down field and the defense shouldn't have any problem keeping UNLV's fickle offense in check. While the Rebels could put up some points, I don't think they'll have enough firepower against the Utes' defense to stay in the game. Utah wins 48-20.
Let's hear your predictions.