The No. 23 Utah Utes (6-3, 3-3 in conference) are set to take on the Stanford Cardinal (5-4, 3-3 in conference) at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. at 4 PM MT on Saturday Nov. 15. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
Utah and Stanford met for the first time last season since 1996. It was one of the biggest upsets of the college football season with the Utes knocking off then no. 5 Stanford 27-21 in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah stopped Stanford on 4th and 2 at the Utah 6-yard line to secure the win. Utah also won the meeting in 1996 at Stanford 17-10. The series is tied 3-3. The home team is 1-4 in the series, with Utah's win at home last season the only victory for the home team. Utah is 2-0 at Stanford with wins in 1989 and 1996.
Banged Up Teams:
At this point in the season, many teams are struggling with injuries. Last week, Utah and Oregon played a brutal game from an injury perspective. Utah lost quarterback Kendal Thompson and wide receiver Tim Patrick for the year during that game. Prior to the game against the Ducks, the Utes lost wide receiver Dres Anderson for the year. It has also been revealed that wide receiver Kenneth Scott has been suffering from an injury per Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.
"Kenneth Scott has been slowed this year by some things, injury-wise, that have been ailing him. We're not down on him, he's just doing the best he can right now with his situation," said Whittingham.
Linebacker is another area with limited depth for the Utes, with Uaea Masina done for the year and Jason Whittingham is still out with an injury but should return before the end of the season.
"Still holding out hope on Jason Whittingham. It won't be this week, but we're hoping if everything goes well he's going to be able to start practicing this week in a non-contact capacity and if there are no steps backward we may have him for the last two regular-season ballgames," said Whittingham.
Lastly, the coaches have decided to seek a medical redshirt for safety Tevin Carter, so he will not be available for the rest of the season.
"Tevin Carter will be a redshirt, we're going to go ahead and finalize that so he will not be able to play the rest of the season. We're going to hopefully get the medical hardship on him," said Whittingham.
Stanford has not been immune from injuries either. Having a bye week last week helped multiple Cardinal players to recover like nose tackle David Parry and safety Zach Hoffpauir. Stanford will be without fullback Patrick Skov.
"Even with the bye, we were more beaten up this year than we were in the last two years," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "Our injury list hasn't been this long in probably four or five years. It hasn't been guys missing games as much as it has been a lot of bumps and bruises. That's why this bye week has been so good for us - just to get guys back to...feeling fresh and re-energized."
Players like wide receiver/return man Ty Montgomery have taken many hits according to Shaw.
"Ty Montgomery has probably covered as much mileage as anybody in college football, be it punt return, kickoff return, being a running back and receiver. He gets hit more than any player in the nation and those hits accumulate," said Shaw.
If you are a fan of offense, this may not be the game for you. Stanford and Utah feature the two best defenses in the Pac-12 this season. They give up 4.1 and 4.9 yards per play respectably. Stanford is first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (16.1 points per game), and Utah is third (24.6 points per game). Both teams are strong against the run. 110.2 yards per game for Stanford (3.1 yards per carry) and 143.7 for Utah (3.5 yards per carry). Stanford also ranks first in pass defense (170.9 yards per game, 106.0 rating). Utah has faired better intercepting passes than Stanford (10 interceptions versus 6). Utah leads the nation in sacks
Add to this that both offenses have struggled, and you can expect a low scoring affair. Utah is eighth in scoring offense (32.7 points per game) and Stanford is dead last (24.7) in the Pac-12. Neither team is effective throwing the football either. Stanford is tenth (247.6 yards per game) and Utah is eleventh (191.3 yard per game) in the Pac-12. Utah is tied for third with only 4 interceptions on the year while Stanford is tenth with 7. The Utah offense goes through running back Devontae Booker, who is only the twelfth running back in Utah history to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. He has 1,055 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. He also has caught 21 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Gone are the days of Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, and Tyler Gaffney. Stanford is tenth in the Pac-12 in rushing (140.2 yards per game). This is the first season since Jim Harbaugh's first season at Stanford in 2007 that Stanford has not been in the top half of the conference in rushing yards per game. Stanford has been forced to use a by-committee approach at running back rather than riding one power back for the majority of yards and carries. Because of the lack of a consistent running game, Stanford's offense has struggled.
Special Teams Have Been Special:
The special teams have been special for both teams. Utah kicker Andy Phillips and punter Tom Hackett are both semi-finalists for the Lou Groza Award and Ray Guy Award respectively. Utah wide receiver/return man Kaelin Clay has returned one kickoff and three punts for touchdowns. He leads the nation in yards per punt return (22.4). Stanford has their own excellent return man in Ty Montgomery. He has returned two punts for touchdowns and is third in the nation in yards per punt return (19.8). Whittingham touched on Montgomery in his weekly press conference.
"Montgomery is different than Kaelin [Clay] as far as his physical stature - he's a big kid. He's got great size that presents problems for you. What he does for that team is very similar to what Kaelin does for us. We have to be smart in the kicking game. He took one back to the house on us last year. The object is to try to minimize his damage. He's brought two punts back to the house already this year, so we have to be smart there. We have to try to slow him down. It's a lot like Marcus Mariota - you're never going to completely shut him down, you just have to slow him down and not let him go crazy on you, because he is very talented," said Whittingham.
In close games, special teams can often be the deciding factor. Given both team's strong defenses and poor offenses, field position will be key. Utah often wins the field position battle due to Hackett, but a big return from Clay or Montgomery could be what decides this game.