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Utes look to rebound against slumping Notre Dame

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Twenty years ago, had these two teams met, there is little doubt who'd be ranked and favored heading into the game. It certainly wouldn't be the Utes. 

Not so anymore. Utah enters Saturday's game not only ranked 15th nationally, but favored against the once mighty Irish. Hard to imagine Notre Dame a dog in their own house to a non-BCS team. I'm not sure when that last happened, but it shows just how much has changed since 1990. 

That was the year the Irish were only two years removed from their national championship. The Utes? Well they were in year one of Ron McBride's rebuilding project. They'd finish the season 4-7. 

Even with their recent struggles and fights for bowl eligibility, the Irish are still the Irish. They're talented and capable of beating a Utah team still licking their wounds from last Saturday's blowout loss to TCU. If the Utes are fighting a hangover, playing an upset-minded Notre Dame team in South Bend is hardly the cure. 

So they must enter this game ready to forget what transpired on the football field a week ago. In their minds, that loss should be looked at as nothing more than an aberration. A fluke. Not indicative of their play this season. 

If they do, Notre Dame is the cure for a tough loss. They're a cure because the Irish are still a struggling program that has a lot more questions entering Saturday's game than the Utes. They're battling injuries. They're battling criticism. They're battling for bowl eligibility. This is a program that, two weeks ago, fell, at home, to Tulsa. 

They are not consistent. They are not explosive. They are not better than the Utes. 

But none of this matters if Utah slumbers into Notre Dame Stadium still sulking after getting their butts handed to them last Saturday. 

The Utes need to come out focused and hell-bent on proving they are better than their performance against TCU. They've got to come out fast and not let up until the final second ticks off the clock perched below the famed Touchdown Jesus. 

With how poorly Notre Dame defends the run defense (79th nationally), Utah needs to do the exact opposite of what it did last week against TCU. They've got to come out of the gate and use their ground game to hammer away at the Irish's defense. 

That will open up the pass and unless the Utes can't establish any type of running game, they should have no problem picking apart the Irish's secondary - as Notre Dame ranks 80th in pass defense. 

Where Utah might have problems is on the defensive end. I know that sounds absurd with how well they've defended this season, but after their defensive performance against the Frogs, I am a bit concerned about their ability to keep the Irish's passing attack in check. 

That shouldn't be a concern because Notre Dame lost its starting quarterback last week and they're now forced to start true freshman Tommy Rees - but this is a team that ranks 17th in passing offense. Even without Dayne Crist, they are still a threat through the air. As easy as TCU carved up Utah's secondary last week, this has to be a point of concern for the defensive coaches. If Utah can step up and stop their passing game, then they will shut down the Irish offense. Notre Dame does not run the ball well. They rank toward the bottom of the nation here (100th) and if you take away the pass, it's hard to imagine their offense can find enough firepower to successfully beat the Utes.

Utah wins if...They shut down the pass and don't turn the ball over. 

Notre Dame wins if...Tommy Rees does his best Andy Dalton impression and picks apart Utah's defense.

What will happen...I believe the Utes will play inspired ball. I trust Kyle Whittingham and think he'll have his boys ready for battle. I also think the defense is not going to allow another quarterback to torch them again this season and with Rees being a true freshman, it's hard to imagine him playing lights out like Dalton did. Utah will defend the pass exceptionally well and the Irish will have a difficult time moving the ball. Jordan Wynn will bounce back nicely and have his way with the Irish secondary. All around, the Utes play much better and win 35-17.

Pretty bold prediction after last week's debacle. Have I lost my damn mind?