Vegas Over/Under: Utah -13
Utah enters its last non-conference game this Saturday against the San Jose State Spartans in the Bay Area. Historically, the game following the Holy War has been difficult for the Utes to get up for emotionally. This match-up isn’t looking much more intriguing than the 56-3 beat down in their last meeting in 2010 but there are a few unknowns going into the game. Utah has experienced quite a few personnel changes this week, and there is the potential for distraction from the looming matchup with USC next week. Let’s take a look at the Spartans and how Utah can be successful against SJSU.
The Spartans return their senior JC transfer quarterback Kenny Potter (QB) this year. Potter played fairly well last year, but really struggled against Tulsa in week 1. The dual-threat quarterback style was a problem last week for Utah with BYU’s Taysom Hill getting loose multiple times during the rivalry game. Kenny Potter (QB) should give Utah’s defense a chance to show improvement on spying the quarterback. This is huge given the future match-ups against Jake Browning & Anu Solomon later in the season. I would expect to see the defense-ends and linebackers to be in a spy package for portions of the game in order to contain Potter’s running game.
The biggest strength for SJSU is the wide receiver position. Tre Hartley (WR), Justin Holmes (WR), and USC transfer Rahshead Johnson (WR) are a possibly the best group of wide receivers in the Mountain West Conference. I would compare them somewhat to Arizona’s WR group in terms of athleticism. I would image SJSU will try to test the Utah secondary early, but I’m not sure they’ll have much success going against Utah’s defense. The Spartans offensive line and running backs are below average to say it kindly. That means Utah’s defense will dial up pressure from the front seven and make Potter throw prematurely and force him into bad decisions. If the Utes can create pressure, then the Utah secondary should have quite opportunities for interceptions. If this is the case, it could get ugly early. It also should be a great opportunity for some of the young defensive linemen like Bradlee Anae (DE) and Leki Fotu (DT) to gain some live reps in replacing the injured Kylie Fitts (DE).
Let me just start by saying San Jose’s strength is NOT defense. SJSU is currently ranked 110th out of 128th in total defense. That does not bode well for the Spartans against a Utah offense that feels like it is on the verge to explode with points. The one area that could play is big role is turnovers. San Jose created six turnovers against Portland State in week 2, while Utah gave up six turnovers in the rivalry game. Now there is an obvious gap in competition from playing Portland State to playing BYU, but it is clearly an emphasis from the SJSU coaching staff to create turnovers. The Utes have put a lot of emphasis on ball control this week, so if someone does fumble the football, Kyle Whittingham may melt them with the lasers shooting out of his eyes!
The SJSU defensive line is porous at best, and they are also missing their star linebacker Christian Tago who is dealing with injuries this week. That means Utah’s new starting running back, true freshman Zack Moss (RB), could have a monster game. In addition, Utah’s Cory Butler-Byrd (WR) is back from his suspension this week, and he should be able to make a ton of plays in the receiving and special teams units. The Spartan secondary, led by Andre Chachere Jr (CB), are the team’s best defensive position group. The match-ups with Utah’s WRs should be pretty fun to watch.
Utah will be the best opponent that SJSU plays this year, and therefore the Spartans will be pumped up to play a PAC 12 school on their home turf. While the SJSU isn’t a powerhouse, Utah needs to show it can overcome the residual emotions from a game like the Holy War. I think Utah will impose their strength in the trenches early, create a few turnovers, and get out to a large lead early in the game. Hopefully we will see more than a few series from Utah’s Tyler Huntley (QB) this week, and allow the starters to rest up before the big PAC 12 South match-up against USC on September 23rd.
Utah 52 San Jose State 14