The Cougars have the chance to make a mini-statement Saturday against Utah.
After taking Stanford to the wire last week with an explosive passing attack and a stiff run defense, the Cougars can show that they are truly improving by beating Utah on the road just a week later. A second-straight road game isn't ideal for the Cougars, but the Cougars strengths do matchup well with the weaknesses of the Utes.
The Utes have really struggled on offense all year and don't defend the pass well on the other side of the ball. This bodes well for a Cougar passing offense that looks like it is starting to get on track in Mike Leach's system and a Cougar defense that has been surprisingly reliable in recent games. Also, the Utes strong defensive line, led by future Top 5 pick Star Lotulelei, impact should be limited by the Cougars disinterest in running the ball while Utah's inconsistent passing game will allow the Cougars to key in on John White much like they did Stepfan Taylor last week.
The keys on offense for the Cougars will be whether or not they can protect quarterback Jeff Tuel and whether or not he can protect the ball.
The Cardinal have one of the best front sevens in the conference, but there is no excuse for giving up 10 sacks the way the Cougars did last week. Lotulelei isn't a sack specialist, but the Utes will assuredly be sending the house at Tuel in hopes of slowing the Cougars passing game and will be aided by a much more raucous crowd than the one the Cougars faced in Palo Alto last week.
Tuel has been more careful with the ball than Connor Halliday when he was starting, but he did give up an interception for a touchdown that ended up being the difference last week and he has been fairly generous with interceptions this season in general. The good news is that the Utes are tied with Colorado for the least amount of interceptions this season with only three.
On defense the Cougars will need to have a repeat of what they did last week against Stanford - shut down the run and force a shaky quarterback and an average receiving core to beat them. However, they won't have the luxury of an extra bye week to prepare like they did for the Cardinal, but the Utes offense also isn't as dangerous as Stanford's. True freshman quarterback Travis Wilson has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in every game that he has gotten the bulk of the snaps and has really struggled to gain yards, throwing for less than 200 yards in his two starts. The Cougars will need to make sure that this remains the case if they hope to win.
Overall, the Cougars have a great chance to go on the road and grab their first conference win, which would go a long ways for building some confidence in the team and getting some heat off of Leach. Also, a win will extend the Cougars another week of potential bowl eligibility, keeping the team motivated and keeping the fans interested.