Utah Utes Football 2011: Game-by-Game Breakdown of Utah's 2011 Season
To understand Utah's chances in the PAC-12, we need to look at University of Utah Football 101. Kyle Whittingham knows how to get it done. He consistently moves players to the positions that best suit the needs of the team. Safety to linebacker, rugby player to running back and yes even a quarterback to defense. This season he has moved a wide receiver to cornerback.
So Whittingham knows how to use the men on his roster to make the best team possible. He has done it all along, he will not stop doing it.That mentality and fierce determination to win is what got the Utes invited to the PAC-12 in the first place and nothing has changed there. He will do whatever it takes to win. That is what he learned under the tutelage of Urban Meyer, and it works.
Game 1: The Utah Utes vs the Montana State Bobcats
Montana State Head coach Rob Ash knows how to get it done too. Ash also has QB Denarius McGhee who had 3,163 yards passing in 12 games last season with 227 completions, 23 touchdowns and only six interceptions. So, the Bobcats can move the ball.
This will really come down to whether or not the Utes offensive line continues to struggle. If it does, McGhee will have a chance at out-guning the Utes. But the Utah d-line is strong and quick. The weakness for Utah is the secondary. It is really in the Utes favor the McGhee is so prolific. His passing ability will help the Utes get ready for the PAC-12 quarterbacks that they will face all season long.
Even with McGhee however, I look for the Bobcats to lose this one. Utah will bring a powerful running game that should be able to out-perform the Bobcats defensive line.
I look for Utah to win this one 28-17.
Game 2: The Utah Utes vs. the USC Trojans
When looking at last year's stats, this game is winnable for the Utes. The intangible is that Utah is playing at the Coliseum, which is akin to being the weak gladiator in an otherwise already unfair fight. Lane Kiffen will be ready and the Trojans always have talent. Sanctions or no sanctions they get some of the best players available anywhere.
Utah will need to bring it to win this game. Kalani Sitake is hard core when it comes to defense. Alabama got a taste of that in the 2009 Sugar Bowl when Nick Saban found himself down 21-0 after just one quarter of play. So USC, don't count the Ute defense out, it is a recipe for disaster.
I look for the Utes to pull an upset here. 24-21 only because I think all of the talk of sanctions and restrictions has distracted the Trojans. USC also has an 8-5 record from last year and that statistic seems to give some credence to the notion that sanction talk has been bad for morale. These Trojans aren't quite the Trojans of old yet, but they will be.
Game 3: The Utah Utes vs. the Brigham Young Cougars
This is the BIG GAME in the state of Utah. If you live in Utah, you know that this game is referred to as the "Holy War". In Utah they say that you either Bleed Red (for Utah), or Blue (for BYU). You are a Ute or a Cougar; there is no middle ground. This is the Texas vs. University of Oklahoma game of the Rockies. National fans may not know that yet but everyone in this region does.
The key to this game is Jake Heaps. He is about to have a break-out year like we haven't seen in a while at BYU. Utah has an untested secondary and Heaps has a great o-line. This is going to be a problem for the Utes. I look for the Ute defense to blitz hard and often and BYU will keep those hefty fullbacks and tight-ends in to help block.
BYU will execute here and I look for them to win. 28-21
Game 4: The Utah Utes vs. the Washington Huskies
Steve Sarkisian is no stranger to playing against the University of Utah. As a player, he met them on the field and during that time, he was actually coached by Norm Chow. So to say there is some familiarity is a bit of an understatement. Sarkisian has been looking for consistency lately and one would hope that the Huskies can find it.
Utah will look to rattle the Huskies with stunts and blitz packages. Washington will be looking to build confidence, as they were 7-6 last year. At this stage in the season we should know how well Jordan Wynn has recovered from his surgery. It should also be apparent how the team has adapted to Chow's pro-style offense. Wynn says it is very similar to the offense he commanded in high school. So for him it shoudn't be too difficult.
I look for the Utes to win this one 24-21.
Game 5: The Utah Utes vs. the Arizona State Sun Devils
I think Arizona State is moving in the right direction. Last year the Sun Devils were 6-6 overall, and 55th in the nation in defense. The Utes were 23rd in offense. This seems to bode well for the Utes. However, Arizona State is used to the rigors of the PAC-12 and the grind will be setting in for the Utes at this stage in the season.
I look for the Sun Devils to bring the heat. If Wynn has gotten into a good rhythm, it will be a win for the Utes because he is deadly accurate when he is on. Just ask Iowa State who lost to Wynn 68-27 last season.
I think the game changer will be the Utah running game with Harvey Langi in the backfield. USC, Stanford, UCLA and BYU recruited Langi. He is a downhill punishing back that will grind it out for a solid well-balanced game.
The Utes will win 28-24
Game 6: The Utah Utes vs. the Pittsburgh Panthers
This is the "trap game" for the Utes. Pittsburgh has lost to Utah their last two meetings. Pitt was 15th in the nation on defense last year. If that statistic holds true again this year-the Utes will struggle. Pitt will be the toughest defense the Utes have faced so far. The Panthers should be healthier as well because, up to this point, they have had an easier schedule.
Utah will look to attack offensively but the tougher defense will have Norm Chow scanning the playbook for ways to put points on the board. The Utes will be exhausted at this point, as they will be almost midway through their PAC-12 schedule.
The Utes will put up points, they always do, but I look for the Panthers to get the revenge they have wanted. Pitt wins at home 24-17
Game 7: The Utah Utes vs. the California Golden Bears
Cal has struggled. The Golden Bears were 5-7 last year. That won't get it done against a Utah team that I believe will be coming off a loss, and looking for payback. Cal was 73rd in offensive points last year. That is going to be way too few points to beat the likes of Kyle Whittingham, Harvey Langi and Jordan Wynn.
I know the Golden Bears can play. But another disadvantage for them is that they will be coming off games against the Oregon Ducks and the USC Trojans. Not a good time to play the Utes. The Golden Bears will be banged up after playing the Ducks and the Trojans and Kalani Sitake will take advantage of any weakness on the offensive line. He will pound the Quarterback. Norm Chow is sure to be confident in his offense at this stage in the season and I believe he will air it out. This could be a disaster for Cal.
I look for the Utes to win big here. 35-17.
Game 8: The Utah Utes vs. the Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State had similar numbers to Cal last year, except they were actually a little worse. Sorry Beavers. The numbers speak for themselves. The offense was 82nd and the defense was 64th. This does not look promising.
Oregon will be coming off playing Arizona, BYU and Washington State while the Utes will be coming off a game at Cal. The dynamics for a Utah victory here are pretty good. The Beavers were 97th in rushing yards and 71st in passing.
The Utes were 24th on defense and 23rd on offense. This game appears to favor the Utes pretty significantly barring some catastrophic injury.
This could be a blowout. I predict the Utes will win 35-14.
Game 9: The Utah Utes vs. the University of Arizona
This will be the Utes 3rd loss of the season. Arizona was 9th is passing last year. The Utes have big questions in their secondary and Mike Stoops has the Wildcats ready to be an elite team. Nick Foles is returning at quarter back as a senior. The 6-5 240lb Texas native had 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. His favorite target, Juron Criner, is returning as well. Criner had over 1,200 yards and 11 TD's. This duo knows each other very well and should quickly adapt to the needs of the team.
The defensive front will look to interrupt Foles who was sacked 23 times last year. Kalani Sitake will certainly be looking to add a few more. The senior will be cool under pressure however, this being his last season; he will bring experience and confidence to the table for the Wildcats.
This game is in the heat in Tuscon, something the team from Salt Lake is not used to at all. Fall weather in Northern Utah at nearly 5,000 feet in elevation is cool and relaxing. Tuscon is brutally hot, and there is a definite weather advantage to the Wildcats.
I look for Arizona to win this one 24-21.
Game 10: The Utah Utes vs the UCLA Bruins
Rick Neuheisel and the UCLA Bruins football team did not do well for their fanbase last year. The Bruins were 4-8. They were 104th in points and 116th in passing yards. The Ute defense will look to capitalize on this. I look for turnovers, sacks and miscues if last year is any indication of this year. In fact, if this season is like last season, it could spell disaster for Neuheisel.
Jordan Wynn should be able to settle in and execute here. UCLA will be coming from sea level to the nearly 5,000 foot elevation of Salt Lake City which greatly favors the Utes in a game where they won't need too many favors to win. The Utes will want to punish someone after what I believe will be a loss in Arizona. It looks like UCLA will take the brunt of their frustration.
I look for Utah to win this one. 28-17.
Game 11: The Utah Utes vs the Washington State Cougars
I don't know what series of unfortunate events got Washington State to the spot they are in. But a record of 2-10 last year will not cut it against the 10-3 Utes. The Cougars were 106th in points and 110th in defense. The Ute defense will swarm like vultures in this game. I look for interceptions, fumbles and sacks if this year is like last year. Utah is very aggressive on taking away the ball. Whittingham made it a priority last year and it worked.
Harvey Langi could have a 100-yard rushing game and Wynn will look to add 300 more in passing. The Cougars will also be coming off playing a tough game against an Arizona State Sun Devil team that is poised to have a break out year and the Utes should be coming off an easier contest against a struggling UCLA.
I look for the Utes to win this one 35-17.
Game 12: The Utah Utes vs the University of Colorado Buffaloes.
In this game, the two new kids on the block meet each other. Everyone wants this to be a rivalry but I don't see it happening. I think Utah is much more likely to develop a rivalry with USC. Colorado is a bit of an unknown this year with coaching changes and the program looking to rebuild. Jon Embree is the new coach here and will put his brand of football into play.
I wish Embree success. Utah is not in the same situation as the Buffaloes. The steady hand of Kyle Whittingham is still at the wheel for the Utes and embedded his philosophy in the Utah system.
The Utes should win this one. 28-17.
This should put the Utes at 9-3 on the season. So congratulations Utah. I feel that you will demonstrate you can hang in the PAC-12.
The problem now is that the road to the BCS goes through teams like Oregon and Stanford, and not the Mountain West.