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September 14, 2005
Utes ready for MWC showdown with TCU
The Utes' opponent this week is the TCU Horned Frogs (1-1). This will be only the third time the teams have met. The previous meetings game in 1996 (Utah won 21-7 in Salt Lake) and 1997 (Utah won 32-18 in Fort Worth) when both were members of the 16 team Western Athletic Conference.
TCU comes into the game with a 1-1 record and an interesting streak - each of the past five seasons, TCU has started at least 2-1, and is 24-4 at home. Utah has two streaks on the line in this game. Utah has won its last four ESPN games, and is currently on an 18 game winning streak, the second longest streak in the nation. This will be the Frogs first home game, while the Utes are making their first road trip of the season.
What to look for from TCU:
• Balance in the offense. TCU runs a fairly balanced offense (55% pass, 45% run in two games), and has two great running backs in Lonta Hobbs (5-foot-10, 220 pounds) and Robert Merrill (5-foot-10, 204 pounds). Hobbs is more of the power back, but Merrill has great power as well for his size. Hobbs left the SMU game in the first quarter with a groin injury and is listed as doubtful, and has 18 carries for 71 yards on the season. Merrill has 33 carries for 131 yards and 1 touchdown. QB Tye Gunn's favorite target is WR Cory Rodgers (6-foot-1, 195). Rodgers has caught 16 of Gunn's 40 completions for 120 yards. Gunn has completed passes to 11 different receivers. Look for TCU to try and run the ball more to control the clock.
• Running back depth. With Hobbs questionable, Merrill will be called upon to carry the load. Merrill is more than capable, but will need help from the passing game (only completing 49% of their passes), the offensive line (averaging 2.6 yards per carry), and true freshman Aaron Brown, who moves up into the top backup roll. Merrill, and TCU, need Brown to be effective when he relieves Merrill.
• Offensive line play. TCU is only averaging 2.6 yards per carry. They need to do better in the running game. They have done a good job in pass protection, giving up two sacks. The unit is replacing two All-Conference linemen, and has the talent to be better than they have played. Utah's D has been suspect at stopping the run, but did a great job in the second half of both the Arizona and Utah State games.
• Defensive line play. TCU's defensive line and linebackers have played well so far, giving up only 3.1 yards per carry, while making 18 tackles for loss, including 5 sacks. TCU held Heisman candidate Adrian Petersen to 63 yards on 22 carries. They will need to play well against a great Utah offensive line that is allowing the running game to average 5.4 yards per carry while only giving up 2 sacks.
• Turnovers. TCU has turned the ball over 6 times this season (2 fumbles, 4 interceptions), 4 (1 fumble, 3 interceptions) coming in the SMU game. TCU needs to take better care of the ball against an opportunistic defense that has forced 6 turnovers (3 fumbles, 3 interceptions) so far this season.
• Special Teams. Wide receiver Cory Rodgers lone touchdown of the season came on an 87 yard kick return in the SMU game. Rodgers other kick return went for 30 yards. TCU is averaging 36.5 yards on kick returns, and 11 yards on punt returns. Coverage teams have done well, only giving up 16.6 yards per kick return. TCU has blocked a punt and a field goal.
What to look for from Utah:
• Design of the offense. Utah looked much better on offense against Utah State. There has been little to complain about in the offense so far this season, as they are averaging 478 yards and 29 points per game. The offense does need to do a better job of converting 3rd downs, as they are only converting 31%. Look for Utah to do a better job this game.
• Penalties. Utah has had several bad penalties that have either kept opposing drives alive, or hampered drives of their own. Overall, Utah does not commit many penalties, but they need to stop committing penalties that keep drives alive on defense or give the offense long second or third down plays, contributing to the low 3rd down conversion percentage.
• Defensive ends and linebackers. A question last week, the ends and backers struggled during the first half of the Utah State game, but played great in the second half. They will need to continue to play strong against the outside running game against TCU. Base end Kite Afeaki has played well, even though he is playing with a shoulder he dislocated in the Arizona game.
• Turnovers. Utah put the ball on the turf three times against Utah State, losing two of the fumbles. QB Brian Johnson has yet to throw an interception. Still, Utah is +3 in turnover margin, as the defense has done a great job forcing turnovers.
• Special Teams. Utah did a great job containing Utah State return man Kevin Robinson, and face another dangerous kick returner in Cory Rodgers. The kicking game has played well so far this season, with the exception of three kicks: A missed 29 yard field goal, a 10 yard punt, and a kickoff that went out of bounds. Don't expect to see those this week.