At the start of 2018 Stanford’s defense was nothing short of elite, allowing only two touchdowns through three games, including a dominating performance against USC where the Cardinal kept the Trojans out of the end zone for four quarters. However, over the last two weeks, Stanford has given up 67 total points to opponents after allowing only 23 in the first three weeks. The foundation is starting to crack in Palo Alto, creating a perfect scenario for a Utah team hoping to find its footing offensively and get their season back on track.
It’s likely no coincidence that the wheels started falling off for Stanford defensively when redshirt junior linebacker, Casey Toohill was sidelined after suffering an arm injury against USC in week two. Head coach David Shaw initially reported Casey Toohill would be out for three to four weeks, however Stanford’s latest depth chart still has junior, Jordan Fox, listed as the starter, leaving Tohill’s return unlikely this week. Fox has performed admirably in relief of Tohill, amassing 14 total tackles and 1.5 sacks, but the pass rush has taken a noticeable step back in the three weeks Tohill has been absent.
While the pass rush is definitely a weak spot for Stanford currently, redshirt freshman cornerback Paulson Abedo has been nothing short of stellar downfield. Abedo has defended more passes (12) than the rest of the starting secondary has combined through the first five games, while also accumulating 30 total tackles (including 21 solo) and three tackles for loss. Utah’s young core of receivers have struggled at times this season, and with a dominating force like Abedo to account for, it may be another tough week for the Utes passing game.
Joining Abedo in the secondary is senior Elijah Holder. Throughout his time in Palo Alto, Holder has shown flashes of brilliance, but has seen limited field time over the last two seasons due to injuries. Despite this, Holder’s best performance of his collegiate career came last week against Notre Dame, where he had eight solo tackles (matching his then season total) , with two assists along with a forced fumble. If Holder can continue his steady improvement and stay healthy, it would certainly solidify Stanford’s backfield as one of the most dominating defensive forces in the PAC-12 North.
Utah’s rushing attack will likely flourish this week with the Cardinal rush defense allowing an average of 3.84 yards per play and with Zack Moss currently averaging 5.2 yards every time he touches the ball, it’s a matchup that bodes well for the Utes, who did show some improvement offensively despite the loss to Washington State last week. If the offensive progress continues, Utah has a chance to grab their first conference win of the season and remain undefeated in Palo Alto.