Salt Lake City, UT (SportsNetwork.com) - With a key Pac-12 matchup against UCLA lurking in the distance, the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal will turn its attention to Salt Lake City where the Utah Utes await for a conference bout at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Cardinal has taken control of the conference standings with three wins in as many Pac-12 contests. The most recent victory was perhaps the most impressive, as the Cardinal held on for a 31-28 triumph over the then No. 15 Washington Huskies. The victory was the 13th straight for the Cardinal, which are 5-0 for just the third time since 1950.
"I have no idea who we play after Utah," Stanford head coach David Shaw said, assuaging any thoughts that his team might overlook the Utes. "(Utah) is a team that plays great at home. In all three phases they do a really good job, so we'll have to come ready to play."
Although Utah is sporting a competitive 3-2 record entering this matchup, there Pac-12 battles have not gone well. Both of the Utes' losses have come against league foes, including a 34-27 setback against No. 11 UCLA at home last Thursday. If there is any solace the Utes can take in their 0-2 conference mark, it is that the two losses have come by a combined 10 points.
Despite Utah becoming a member of the Pac-12 two years ago, it has not faced Stanford. This will be the first league game between the two programs and just the fifth all-time meeting. Stanford is 3-2 in the all-time series, but Utah posted a 17-10 win when they last met in 1996.
Stanford's offense was stymied against Washington. Although the Cardinal has not been one of the most dynamic or productive offensive units in recent years, by putting up just 279 yards of total offense, while getting just 14 first downs, it was still a down game for them. Thus far the balanced, grind- it-out style has worked fine for Stanford which is one of just three teams in the conference to have run for more yards (1,051) than it has thrown for (990).
Tyler Gaffney is the workhorse in the backfield with a team-high 92 carries for 467 yards and six touchdowns. Gaffney did not have his best game against Washington, totaling 85 yards and a score on 20 carries. Anthony Wilkerson (47 carries, 200 yards, TD) spells Gaffney as a more than serviceable second option.
Running the show from under center is Kevin Hogan. Stanford's signal caller has completed 62.6 percent of his pass attempts, with 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions. However, Hogan is averaging just 186.4 yards per game through the air.
Just because the Cardinal prefers the run, doesn't mean it is lacking strong receivers. Ty Montgomery (23 receptions, 383 yards, five TDs) has been a reliable target and has had a knack for getting into the end zone. Meanwhile, Devon Cajuste (12 receptions, 251 yards, three TDs) is a big-play threat that is averaging an impressive 20.9 yards per reception.
Stanford has managed to remain undefeated despite not playing the same type of dominating defense it did a year ago. Although the Cardinal have been solid defensively, the team currently ranks outside the top 40 nationally in yards allowed (372.6 ypg). A year ago Stanford finished 20th in that category. Stanford is still an attacking defense that ranks fourth in the conference in sacks (14.0) and tackles for loss (37.0).
Shayne Skov (43 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks), Trent Murphy (6.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Josh Mauro (4.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) have been the pillars of the team's impressive front seven.
Going up against that front seven will be Travis Wilson and the suddenly dynamic Utah offense. The Utes were not a very versatile offense a year ago but this season things have changed. Utah is scoring an impressive 39 points per game and totaling more than 480 yards of total offense.
The play of Wilson has been a major reason as he has totaled 1,406 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air and an additional 248 yards and five scores on the ground. However, he has shown a tendency to try to force balls or make bad reads as he has been intercepted nine times.
Though Wilson has been utilized in the running game, the Utes haven't had much consistency at running back. Bubba Pool (350 yards, TD) leads the team in rushing attempts and yards, but Lucky Radley (138 yards, two TDs) and Kelvin York (128 yards, TD) have each been the lead rusher at some point this season, including last week when York rushed for a team-high 51 yards against UCLA.
"We're trying to find out if one of the three will separate themselves, and right now they're all giving us good production," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of his backfield options. "It's not a situation where we're searching for someone to give us some production because we're getting production. It's we're searching to see if anyone's going to separate themselves, and if not, then they'll all continue to get carries."
On the edge Dres Anderson has been one of the more dangerous and productive receivers in the Pac-12. Anderson has recorded only 24 receptions, but he has made the most of those opportunities by amassing 510 yards and four scores. Anderson is fifth in the conference in receiving yards and his 21.3 yards per reception average is among the 10 best marks in the country. Sean Fitzgerald (19 receptions, 284 yards, three TDs) is another receiver that has been targeted often.
Utah doesn't do anything flashy on defense and is actually in the bottom half of the league in both points (26.2 ppg) and yards (406.0 ypg) allowed. However, Utah has been a solid defensive unit and like Stanford is strong in terms of creating negative plays, ranking third in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss (38), while leading in sacks (18).
Trevor Reilly (37 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and Jared Norris (37 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) are the leading tacklers for the Utes and are also major contributors in the pass rush.