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Utah (1-1) @ USU (0-2)

AT  

Date & Time: Sept. 16th, 2006, 6:05 p.m. MST
TV: KJZZ
Radio: AM 700 The Zone
Location: Romney Stadium, Logan, Utah
All-time series: Utah leads 72-29-4
Last meeting: 2005 (Utah 31, Utah State 7)

There was a time when this rivalry, billed The Battle of Brothers, dominated the Utah sports scene. In fact this game was often scheduled at the end of the year and the Holy War, the battle between Utah and TDS, took a backseat to the Utah and Utah State rivalry. Then things began to change as TDS became a more formable foe and Utah State quickly slipped into mediocrity with each passing year of legendary coach Dick Romney's retirement. Soon, Utah State would become irrelevant in a state dominated by Utah and TDS and Utah would begin dominating the series.

This Saturday the Utes will look to win their 9th straight game against Utah State, not having lost to them since the 1997 season. The Aggies on the other hand will be looking to score their first offensive touchdown, as both Wyoming and Arkansas have kept USU's offense out of the end zone so far this season. That does not bode well for Utah State, as the Utes stingy defense might continue the Aggies offensive woes.

Utah State's offense has struggled in their first two games, scoring no points and only putting up an average of  192 total yards per game. Likewise, Leon Jackson III has struggled too, only passing for 188 yards and having a completion percentage of 42%. Against Arkansas last week, Jackson completed 11 of 28 passes for 114 yards, a stat he most likely will need to improve on if Utah State has a chance of upsetting the Utes. Utah State's running game actually improved from week one to week two as running back Marcus Cross had 103 yards on 23 carries against Arkansas last week, up from his 44 yards in the season opening loss to Wyoming two weeks ago. The Aggies will need a stellar performance from Marcus Cross to have any hope, because Utah's run defense -- even as early as it is -- shut down UCLA's running back Chris Markey and grounded Northern Arizona's running game.

On defense, the Aggies will need to step it up. They got dominated by Wyoming, giving up 38 points, however held Arkansas to 20 the very next week. Utah's offense, after a lackluster start against UCLA, looks to be more improved and Ratliff should carve up the Aggies secondary. Utah also seems to have found a solid balance between their passing game and running game with both Mike Liti and Daryl Poston playing very well in both the UCLA and Northern Arizona games.

The Utes offense put up 45-points last week and will again look to dominate the stat sheet. After a slow start against the Lumberjacks, the Utes scored on 7-consecutive possessions to dominate their way to a 45-7 victory and it could have been a lot worse, but the Utes called off the dogs early in the third quarter. Ratliff looked better, though it was Utah's receiving core that shined during last week's game, making incredible grabs throughout. Utah will probably need Ratliff it be more on target with his passes this week because even though Utah State is a poor opponent, they are still a step up from D1-AA Northern Arizona.

Utah's defense looks be solid this season, especially their ability to stop the run. This was the lone bright spot in Utah's loss to UCLA two weeks ago and proved to be another bright spot last week. Yet the Utes will still need to pressure the quarterback, something that happened far less than I expected against Northern Arizona. Utah's blitz packages traditionally are successful, but then again it's also traditionally Utah's defense that starts out slowly and then ends with a bang. When it's all said and done, the Utes should have little difficulty dominating Utah State's weak offense and I expect nothing less.

While this game is on the road, there will be a lot of Ute red filling up Romney Stadium. This will most likely be Utah State's only sellout of the year and the fans will be pumped for this game. With that said, Utah should not only win, but dominate as well. Even when the Utes have struggled in the past, they've nearly always beaten the Aggies and have done it in blowout fashion. 2001 was the last time this game was competitive, with Utah winning 23-19 in Salt Lake City. Utah should win with ease, but it is a rivalry game and you never know what can happen in those games.

Utah wins if... They show up and play like they did against Northern Arizona. There is no excuse for this game being close and if Utah's passing game continues to improve, they should win with ease.

Utah State wins if... The Aggies score early and pump up the home crowd. This is a rivalry game and if Utah State gets up for this game and Utah doesn't, it could get ugly early. The Utes can't have a slow start like they did last week, especially with this game being on the road. If the Aggies hang within striking distance throughout the night, they very well could pull the upset.

What will happen... Utah dominates and comes out of Logan with a 2-1 record. Utah State is far from being a good team and might be worse than they were last year. The Utes' offense should roll, while I think the defense does a great job at keeping Utah State out of the end zone a bulk of the night. If the Utes blow away the Aggies, that may signal they're back on track to a successful season. A close game however may mean Utah might struggle this year.

Keys to the game:

  • Don't give Utah State hope. If the Aggies score early or hang with the Utes, the fans will be in it and it will put all the pressure on Utah. The Utes don't need that, not in a rivalry game.
  • Utah's offense needs to continue surging. Last week was impressive, but there are still a lot of questions here and Utah needs to start answering them this week.
  • The Utes defensive line needs to stop Marcus Cross. Cross can go off and is a solid back, so the Utes will have their hands full. The defense has done well at stuffing the run this season and they'll need to keep it up.