Tonight the No. 20 Utah Utes (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will face their first major test in Pac-12 play this season when they face the Stanford Cardinal (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) at 8:15 p.m. MT at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised on FS1. This game is Utah’s Pac-12 home opener in the 2017 game and is also the Homecoming game, meaning Utah is wearing their excellent neo-throwback uniforms. Speaking of Homecoming, there is the annual tailgating party from 5:00-7:30 p.m. MT at 550 S. Guardsman Way.
We have previewed the Stanford offense and defense, now let’s take a look at the game as a whole to get you ready for a game that is likely to get physical. This is a game between two teams that historically play football similarly even though they use very different schemes. Both teams have pounded the rock, play great defense, and try to control field position on special teams. This game will feature a lot of strength on strength match ups. Both teams play well along both lines of scrimmage. Stanford has the nation’s leading rusher, while Utah leads the Pac-12 rushing defense. Utah forces turnovers, and Stanford does not turn over the football.
Stanford and Utah are two of the most physical teams in the Pac-12 year in a year out. Both teams rely on stellar play along both lines of scrimmage. Utah is breaking in a new offensive line this season after seeing four offensive linemen drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft, including tackle Garett Bolles, who went in the first round. Stanford lost defensive lineman Solomon Thomas from last year, who was picked third overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Both teams recruit well along the lines and will try to bully the other team. Utah is deep along the defensive line and will be able to rotate in players to try to keep guys fresh for a game that figures to be a four quarter battle.
Can Stanford show the Utah run defense some Love?
Stanford running back Bryce Love is leading the in rushing yards by more than 200 yards. He is averaging an eye popping 11.1 yards per carry and tops 217 rushing yards per game on average. He set a Stanford school record with 301 rushing yards against the Arizona State Sun Devils last Saturday. Love will face his toughest test today with the talented Utah defense that leads the conference in rushing yards per game at only 87. Utah’s last opponent, the Arizona Wildcats, are the only team to top 100 yards rushing on the Utes (they put up 200), and Arizona is the top rushing offense in the Pac-12, averaging 296 rushing yards per game. Arizona features a different rushing attack than Stanford, but their read option offense tends to be tougher for Utah to stop than more traditional power running. In Stanford’s two Pac-12 wins this season, Love has rushed for 263 and 301 yards compared to 160 and 184 rushing yards in Stanford’s two losses. This means that Love does not need to be totally bottled up to defeat Stanford, he just needs to be kept under 200 yards, especially with wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside out for this game. This will be the best run defense Love has seen all season. Love and Stanford present the biggest challenge the Utah run defense has seen this season.
The Utes lead the Pac-12 in turnovers forced with 14 (which is also tied for No. 3 in the nation and Utah is the only team in the top 15 in the nation in turnovers forced that has not yet played five games). On the other hand, Stanford is tied for first in the Pac-12 in fewest turnovers given up. Utah’s turnover margin is +1.50 turnovers per game, which also leads the Pac-12 (and is top 10 nationally). In Utah’s two previous upset wins over Stanford in 2013 and 2014, Utah was +1 in the turnover margin in each win. As Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham says turnover margin is the most important stat outside of the final score. With two teams that are cut from the same cloth like Utah and Stanford are, turnovers can decide the game.