One of seven teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision still without a blemish on their record in 2010, the eighth-ranked Utah Utes try to continue their dominant play this weekend as they challenge the Air Force Falcons in Mountain West Conference action in Colorado.
Rated eighth in the most recent BCS rankings, the Utes have won all seven of their outings this season and are enjoying an eight-game win streak overall. Last weekend the team once again put all the pieces together, both on offense and defense, as they completely crushed the Colorado State Rams at home in Salt Lake City, 59-6. The Utes have scored at least 56 points in four of the last five outings and during that time held opponents to a combined 56 points.
With a mark of 4-0 in MWC action, the Utes are currently tied with fourth- ranked TCU for first place in the league standings, while Air Force now rests in fourth place at 3-2 following its most recent setback.
Last weekend the Falcons, who were once a part of the AP's Top-25 earlier in the season, were dealt their second straight loss in a 38-7 final versus the aforementioned Horned Frogs. Air Force is now just 5-3 on the season overall, although the first two setbacks of 2010 (Oklahoma and San Diego State) came by a combined five points.
Last year the Utes needed overtime to establish a 23-16 win over the academy in their annual meeting, but still the Falcons own a 14-12 edge in the series. While Air Force still holds the advantage in the series, Utah has been striking back hard in recent years with two straight wins and six in the last seven meetings. Utah has taken three in a row in Colorado Springs by an average of just four points.
"We played well against Colorado State in all three phases of the game," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of his team's efforts last weekend. "Our offense had a lot of production and a lot of yards and points. We possessed the ball well and did a lot of good things. The defense was more of the same. We defended the run exceptionally well...It was good to get back home - that was our only home game in October - and it was good to get a win."
To say that the Utes played well last week is an understatement, given how much they pushed Colorado State around. For the third time in the last seven years the Utes ran their record to 7-0, thanks to Jordan Wynn who threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns while being named the MWC's Co-Offensive Player of the Week. Wynn hit on 23-of-29 passes and was sacked only once, while the running game rolled up another 221 yards and four touchdowns to give Utah a final tally of 648 yards of offense, after factoring in the production of backup signal-caller Terrance Cain.
Matt Asiata was limited to just 39 yards rushing on seven attempts, but he hit the end zone twice for the Utes, while receiver DeVonte Christopher turned five catches into 111 yards and a TD.
Defensively the Utes completely man-handled the Rams in every facet of the game. They took down the opposing quarterback for five sacks and held the CSU run game to just 28 net yards. Christian Cox grabbed some of the spotlight with a sack and a fumble recovery for the group.
Surprisingly, the recovery by Cox was just one of three on the entire season for the Utes, one of the only areas that could stand to see some improvement down the stretch. In fact, when it comes to turnover margin the Utes are sixth in the Mountain West and 97th nationally with a minus-0.71 turnovers per contest. The squad doesn't have a single, standout performer on defense, yet with a team effort the Utes are still ranked first in the conference and eighth in the nation with 3.14 sacks per game. The same goes for tackles for loss as the squad posts 7.29 per outing to stand first in the MWC and 17th in the country this week.
Even though he has missed some action in 2010, Wynn is evolving into one of the more dominant passers in the conference with his nearly 70 percent completion rate and 12 TDs, against just five interceptions. Cain has also played extremely well, to the point where it almost seems ridiculous not to give him some snaps every time out, having completed a staggering 76.6 percent of his attempts for six TDs and no picks. Put it all together and the Utes have the third-best scoring offense in the country at this stage with 47.7 ppg.
As for the Falcons, the top running team in the nation with 326.5 ypg, they were held to less than 200 yards on the ground by the Horned Frogs last week and again they are facing off against a tough front line in the Utes this weekend. The triple option took some hits from TCU, generating just 184 yards, while quarterback Tim Jefferson completed a mere three passes as the academy continued to focus its efforts on the ground.
Jefferson, who threw for 47 yards, was second on the team in rushing with 39 yards and had the lone touchdown of the meeting for the Falcons on a 16-yard run in the first quarter. While the Air Force offense was being shut down, the defense was being run over by the Frogs who put up 377 yards and scored four times on 51 rushing attempts. The pass defense was somewhat better, giving up 185 yards and a score, but that's only because TCU found a weakness in the AF run defense and insisted on exploiting it over and over again.
Except for the season opener against Northwestern State, Air Force has permitted at least 113 yards on the ground in every contest and in the last four games the opposition has reached no less than 200 ypg via the run. Needless to say, shoring up the front line and digging deep in the trenches is something the Falcons will have to pursue if they want to improve their run defense which is currently seventh in the conference and 110th in the nation with 205.8 ypg allowed.
Obviously the passing attack isn't going to all of a sudden appear for the academy, but given the right situation Jefferson has shown that he can pick his spots and find receivers down the field, but holding onto the ball and pounding it over and over again on the ground will not only instill some confidence in the Falcons, it will also keep the ball out of the hands of the Utes who can hurt teams in so many different ways.
"The triple option attack is a big departure from what we see every week," coach Whittingham says of matching up against Air Force. "We spend time in the spring and on the bye week on it, so we got a head start. We have to play assignment football. Any breakdowns and you are looking at a potential big play. We have to match their toughness and discipline to defend it."
TCU drew up the blueprint on how to stop the Falcons last week, so expect Utah to use the same approach as the visitors cruise to the victory and remain undefeated.