The Utah Utes return to play Saturday as they travel to Ames, to take on the upstart Iowa State Cyclones. It's Utah's first game since defeating the San Jose St. Spartans two weeks ago and clearly their first true road test of the season.
While Iowa State isn't a named school and they've seen far more losing campaigns than winning over the last few years, this is a good team. That was evident last week when they beat up on the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
But that's all they are. Make no mistakes about it, the Cyclones aren't great and this is a game Utah should win. I say should not will because I don't want to ever underestimate or disrespect a team of Iowa State's caliber. I am, however, a realist and even though this team is leaps and bounds better than the New Mexico Lobos and Spartans, they're not going to be the toughest team the Utes face this season.
They're a legitimate 6 or 7 win team and that's about it. Which means they're fully capable of pulling off an upset and sending Utah back to Salt Lake City with a pretty inexcusable loss if they happen to overlook the Cyclones.
That, in my opinion, is the scariest thing about this game. Iowa State isn't a named BCS program. They're not Notre Dame, so this isn't a game the Utes have had circled since the season began. With that said, they're also not bad and that means Utah can't take them lightly. They're not the Lobos and you can't expect them to just roll over and die after a few plays. This is a team that will battle the Utes every step of the way and if Utah does not take them or this game seriously, you have the ingredients for an upset.
Thankfully, I don't believe that will be the case. Especially with how well the Cyclones played Texas Tech last week. That was an impressive win and it surely got the Utes' attention. They're not the slumping Iowa State team we thought they were fourteen days ago.
But they're also not perfect. This is a very flawed team and those flaws were on full display in their 52-38 win over the Red Raiders.
For starters, the Iowa State defense is very mediocre. They give up 22 points per game, which ranks 51st nationally. They're ranked 99th in rushing defense and 42nd in pass efficiency defense. Overall, their total defense is a worse-than-mediocre 84th nationally.
Utah should be able to move the ball on this team.
On offense, they're not much better. Last Saturday was their best offensive performance in decades, however, even considering those numbers, they still rank 69th in scoring offense (26.6 points per game), 65th in rushing offense and 95th in passing offense.
Against Utah's defense, which is 11th in rushing defense, 17th in pass efficiency defense, 7th in total defense and 7th in scoring defense, they could be in trouble.
That's not to say it's all bad. Iowa State does rank 12th in turnover margin and that, I believe, is the key of the game.
When you're facing a team that is obviously less talented and underpowered across the board, turnovers could be the difference maker. That has been a problem for Utah this season, though they did seem to clean them up against the Spartans two weeks ago.
These types of teams thrive off creating turnovers. It's often the only way they can create tempo and get back into the game. That's what Utah will need to look out for Saturday because with how the Cyclones' offense has struggled this season, even when you account for their big win last week against Texas Tech, the only way they may even have a hope of scoring is off a short field. Turnovers cause those short fields and they often lead to easy scores.
If Utah doesn't allow those easy scores, this game should be theirs.
Utah wins if...Clean play, no turnovers and this is a game Utah should win. Maybe even easily, though I won't go that far just yet.
Iowa State wins if...The Cyclones force some big turnovers and capitalize on them.
What will happen...The Utes won't dominate. I expect a game where they grind it out, though they'll win rather comfortably 27-10.
What are your predictions?