Date & Time: September 12th, 2009, 8:30 MST
Radio: Kall 700
Location: Spartan Stadium, San Jose, California
All-time series: Utah leads 4-1
Last meeting: 1998, Utah 49, SJSU 17
Watching the early moments of the USC-San Jose State game Saturday afternoon gave me pause - since it appeared the Spartans just might be better than originally thought. Of course, as I began to doubt Utah's chances against them, they collapsed and USC scored 56 unanswered points.
The score really doesn't tell the entire story of the game, either, since the Trojans spotted San Jose State three points and were in the middle of breaking in their freshman quarterback. Had USC played at the level they did throughout the rest of the game in that first quarter - where they were outscored 3-0 - the final score would've been even uglier.
Does this mean the Spartans will be a walk in the park for the Utes? No. It's the first road game of the season and the crowd will be pumped for playing a ranked opponent. I expect them to also come out with a bit more fire after getting absolutely waxed in a game many of the players felt could act as a statement.
They're also coached by Dick Tomey, who is very similar to Ron McBride. In fact, the two coached together at Arizona prior to McBride taking the Utah job. What that means is his teams generally play hard and are certainly capable of pulling off a stunner or two - though he has yet to really get a program defining victory there.
What he has accomplished, though, is remarkable for a program that struggled greatly prior to his arrival.
Before Tomey, San Jose State hadn't been to a bowl game in 15 years, yet he got them to the New Mexico Bowl in only his second season - a 20-12 victory over New Mexico. Now they're in their third year removed from that 9-4 season and things aren't nearly at the level many expected once he got them over the hump. In 2007, they struggled to a 5-7 record and last season, only finished 6-6. Whether they rebound this year is unknown, though after their start against USC, it does appear they do have some issues.
For starters, their offense looked abysmal. They managed 121 total yards and only 9 on the ground. For the Spartans to have any hope of staying competitive with the Utes, that needs to change. Even then, they can't take comfort in their defense, either, since it was equally as bad.
They gave up 620 yards to the Trojans, who were going through an extreme offensive transition. The way USC worked their defense was rather impressive, especially when you realize it was fairly balanced. 342 of their yards came on the ground and 278 through the air - which suggests Matt Asiata just may have a field day with the San Jose State defensive line.
And there may lie the key to the game for the Utes. Asiata's ability to chew up the Spartan defense could relieve the pressure of starting on the road for Terrance Cain, while giving Utah the consistency to establish a sustained offensive threat.
Utah will most certainly ground it out and play more conservative than what we should expect later in the season. This will lower the mistakes that could come from a young offense playing their first road game. Because of this, I expect Cain to have less of an impressive game than what we saw Thursday - though this will all be by design.
For San Jose State, their offense will consist of a few notable weapons. They do have a two-quartback system with Kyle Reed and Jordan La Secla, but neither looked all that impressive against the Trojans. Reed was only 9 of 17 for 99 yards and LaSecla went 5 of 10 for 43 yards.
So don't expect them to test the secondary too much Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, if last Saturday's game is any indication, they won't have much of a running game to lean back on. Their leading rusher, Patrick Perry - who made his first start after a missing the last two seasons due to injury - only ran for 48 yards on 14 rushes. Not the type of performance many expected when it was announced he would return this season.
Of course, Utah isn't USC and this is on the road. Maybe I'm reacting too much over the numbers of a game San Jose State had no chance of winning. This is a winnable game for them in the sense the Utes aren't USC and are still in the transition phase with their offense.
In fact, I'd wager it isn't necessarily San Jose State who scares me all that much, but the fact Utah is still fairly inexperienced and this is on the road. Road games can be brutal for a young team (just look at many of the road games in Whittingham's first season). A few turnovers here and there could get the crowd really into it and that might be enough to turn the tide if the Utes do not come ready to play.
Regardless of all that, though, this should be a Utah victory. A loss here would signal this program is probably a step or two worse than we all expected. On the flipside, I doubt a win validates anything.
Utah wins if...They don't play down to San Jose State or allow the game to stay close throughout the first three quarters. If this game isn't decided entering the fourth, things could get interesting. But in the end, Utah is more talented and shouldn't lose, even if it's their first road game.
San Jose State wins if...They keep the game close through turnovers and remain in striking distance entering the fourth. If the Spartans win, I don't see it by a large margin. They'll need to remain competitive throughout most of the contest and hope they get a few lucky breaks at the end to pull it out.
What will happen...The Utes rely on Asiata and he leads them to victory. Cain has a decent game, even though not much is asked of him. Utah's defense swarms the Spartans, causing a few turnovers and allowing the Utes to blow the game open early in the third quarter. Utes win 31-10.
What are your predictions for the game?