(Sports Network) — One of two teams in the Mountain West Conference that remains undefeated entering this week's action, the ninth-ranked Utah Utes try to run their win streak to eight in a row as they entertain the Colorado State Rams at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
Utah, which along with fourth-ranked TCU continue to give the MWC credibility this season, is moving right along in 2010 as one of the last unbeatens among the Football Bowl Subdivision programs. The Utes have been tough at home to say the least over the last several years, having won 20 straight in their own building dating back to September of 2007. The most recent home win for the team came on September 25th in a 56-3 rout of San Jose State.
The last two weeks have seen the Utes on the road, first at Iowa State where they completely blew apart the Cyclones 68-27, then last week in Laramie where they recorded a 30-6 triumph over the Wyoming Cowboys to remain in a first- place tie with the Horned Frogs atop the MWC standings at 3-0.
As for the Rams, they've had very little to cheer about again this year and have won just twice in seven tries. However, the squad did manage to snap a two-game slide last weekend by crushing the UNLV Rebels at home in Fort Collins, 43-10. The scoring output by CSU was the highest of the season, but it is still hard to ignore the fact that the Rams have been held to 10 points or fewer four times already in 2010.
Last year, Utah logged a 27-14 win in the annual affair to move out to a 54-22-2 advantage in the long-running series. The last win for the Rams in Salt Lake City was a 28-20 verdict back in 2002.
"He had some help," CSU head coach Steve Fairchild said of the performance by quarterback Pete Thomas against UNLV last weekend. "Any time we're running the football, the protections going to make it better. Lou Greenwood gives us some protection. Petes going to look good, our offensive line will look good, our receivers will look good if we can get a little run going."
Thomas controlled the offense for the Rams as the team rolled up 259 yards rushing and scored twice on the ground. Through the air Thomas connected on just 10-of-14 passes, yet those went for 233 yards and three touchdowns to keep CSU looking forward.
But as great as the offense was for the Rams last weekend, the top performance was turned in by nose tackle Guy Miller on the defensive side of the ball.
"I never thought I'd have two sacks in a game, let alone four," Miller said after setting the MWC's single-game record for sacks with 4.5. "It's cool. It hasn't really set in. I'm trying to get four tackles in a game, that's good for me. So 4 sacks is ridiculous. The whole defense played good."
Needless to say, a modest Miller was named the MWC's Defensive Player of the Week for putting himself in the record books.
In all, the Rams delivered six sacks of UNLV signal-caller Omar Clayton which meant the team went from being tied for 74th in the nation in sacks per game heading into the weekend to being 47th this week with an average of 2.29 per contest. Miller now has 6.5 sacks on the season and 8.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage on just 23 total tackles.
However, as great of a performance as it was for Miller and his teammates, the fact remains that on the whole this is a defensive unit that is having some real issues this season. Stopping the run has been a problem, the team giving up 202.0 ypg, but that can be explained away by the fact that the team has already faced Air Force, TCU and Nevada, three programs that are all in the top-10 in rushing at this stage of the season.
Thomas has been doing his best to get the Rams into the win column, converting 67.7 percent of his pass attempts, but having as many interceptions (eight) as he does TDs doesn't help matters. Getting more than just six TDs and 117.9 ypg from the ground game is also something that needs to be addressed by the Colorado State coaching staff.
Meanwhile, the Utes are a team that are slowly creeping up behind the premier programs in the league and took another step in the right direction last Saturday when Jordan Wynn threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and Matt Asiata put up 109 rushing yards in the 24-point win over Wyoming. The outcome could have been even more slanted in favor of the Utes had Wynn not thrown three interceptions, two of those in the end zone.
While Wynn and the offense hit a few sour notes after the team had scored at least 56 points in each of the three previous outings, the defense was back to beating up on the competition, allowing the Pokes a total of just 183 yards of offense and 10 first downs. The squad recorded 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and four sacks.
"We weren't playing square up front," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said about making adjustments to his defense versus Wyoming. "We weren't playing with good technique - we settled down and started playing like we're capable of and that was the difference."
Heading into this week Utah is first in the Mountain West and 12th in the country in tackles for loss with seven and a half per contest, while placing first in the league and 19th in the country in sacks per outing as well with 2.83 per. In terms of total defense, the Utes are second only to TCU in the conference with 253 ypg allowed and rank ninth in the country with 14.0 ppg permitted, a good portion of the latter stat stemming from the 27 points posted by Iowa State a couple weeks back.
Wynn will make his share of mistakes with the offense, but no one can argue that he is directing this group very well with his 67.3 percent accuracy and 158.6 efficiency rating. And really, Wynn has no choice by play at a high level because waiting in the wings is Terrance Cain who, with five passing scores and no INTs, could easily step in and be the man again on offense for the Utes.
The Rams had all the stars align for them last week in their decisive win over UNLV, but now it is time for Colorado State to fall back into a vulnerable position and be beaten up just like every other Utah opponent this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah 49, Colorado State 10