Date & Time: October 14th, 2006
Radio: AM 700 The Zone
Location: War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyoming
All-time series: Utah leads 47-30-1
Last meeting: 2005 (Utah 43, Wyoming 13)
The Utah and Wyoming rivalry is the third longest played series in Utah's history, only taking a backseat to instate rivals Utah State and TDS. Yet over the years, the rivalry has become just another game on the schedule and the battle lost its liveliness. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that during Wyoming's successful run in the 1960s-80s, Utah football was rather unimpressive and the resurgence of Utah football from the early 90s to today has occurred during Wyoming's worst stretch of football in school history. Yet even with both teams taking entirely different directions, this game should be a difficult challenge for the Utes because of Wyoming's strong defense.
I've never enjoyed the trip to Laramie, mostly because if often happened toward the latter part of the season. This often meant snowy weather, cold temperatures and a definitive Wyoming home field advantage. Well the Utes lucked out this season, as they're playing Wyoming in mid-October and the game day weather looks to be reasonable enough. It's also good that this is a day game, as the last time Utah played Wyoming in Laramie two years ago during their historical 12-0 season, the Pokes had trouble with the power. During the game, the stadium lights kept going out and ABC, who was broadcasting the game, had to switch over to a rerun of the 2005 Sugar Bowl between Oklahoma and LSU. It was an embarrassing moment for the Mountain West Conference and luckily it did not have any major impact on Utah's BCS run that year.
But that was 2004 and this is 2006 and I expect a much better game than that one played in the cold, lightless Laramie night. The Utes offense has struggled and while they improved greatly last week against TCU, Wyoming's defense is strong enough to keep Utah's offense in check. Plus, it's never easy going up to Laramie and walking out with a dominate win. Clearly Wyoming is not a great team, but they've yet to be blown out this season and played Boise State much better than Utah did earlier this season. That right there is enough to scare me.
The strongest aspect of this Wyoming team is their defense, which ranks 4th in the nation in total yards given up this season. They also rank 1st in the nation in allowing only 106 passing yards per game. If there is a weakness on this Cowboys team, it's their run defense, which gives up 129-yards per game. This means Utah will need a solid game from their running backs if they're going to get anything going on offense. Ratliff will also have a challenge, facing a defense very capable of shutting down the passing attack.
But while the Cowboys have a solid defense, their offense is rather anemic. They average only 22-points per game and will probably need more than that to defeat Utah. What it comes down to for Wyoming is whether or not their defense can keep the Utes out of the end zone. If they can't, and Utah produces their season average for points per game (27 PPG), the flow of the game will favor Utah more than Wyoming. I'm just not sure Utah has the weapons, especially at quarterback, to penetrate a tough Wyoming secondary. The Utes very well may do what they did last week against TCU, run a more aggressive offense early, then rely on their running game and kicking game to seal the deal. If the Utes can pin the Cowboys deep into their own territory, it'll be difficult for their offense to get anything going.
Wyoming's biggest defensive threat is John Wendling, a strong safety, who's a lot like Eric Weddle. He'll be Wyoming's best player on the defensive end and may disrupt Ratliff's passing game. If the Utes receiving core can make him ineffective throughout the day, the offense could do some damage. This is a game Utah is favored in, but a game Wyoming can just as easily win. The Utes will need to perform on offense and hope Ratliff does not turn the ball over, giving the Pokes a short field.
Utah wins if... Ratliff plays like he did Saturday. TCU's defense struggled keeping Utah's offense in check the first half and a performance like that against Wyoming should result in at least 3 scores.
Wyoming wins if... The Cowboys force Utah into turnovers and capitalize on those turnovers. If the Cowboys shut down Utah's offense, they may have enough offensive power of their own to pull out a win.
What will happen... Utah's offense is again balanced and Ratliff has a decent game, but not great. The Utes defense does a solid job at containing the Cowboys and the offense does its job at putting up enough points on the board to win.
Keys to the game:
- Don't turn the ball over. The Utes did a good job at not turning the ball over against TCU and they won. They'll need to do that again this week.
- Force Wyoming into turnovers. The Utes forced 3-turnovers against TCU and if they can force that many against Wyoming they should win, baring they don't have 4 or more turnovers themselves.
- Run the ball! The Utes running game is not great, but it isn't bad either. Wyoming's weakness in their defense is the running D and if the Utes take advantage of it, they should not struggle at succeeding against Wyoming.