Utah Football: Why The Utes Will Upset No. 14 Stanford

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No. 14 Stanford enters Saturday’s contest against Utah as a 5-point favorite at home.

But after a blowout loss to then-No. 8 Notre Dame last week, and with Heisman hopeful Bryce Love likely out after sustaining an injury against the Fighting Irish, don’t be surprised to see Utah walk out of Stanford Stadium with a victory.

The series between programs has been great for the road team with Utah unbeaten at 3-0 and Stanford at 3-1. The all-time series is even at 4-4 after Stanford snapped Utah’s three-game win streak last year at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The loss was Utah’s first to the Cardinal since becoming a member of the Pac-12 Conference in 2011.

Here’s why I believe the Utes will get back on track with a win on Saturday.

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Bryce Love?

Let’s be honest. Bryce Love is one of the top playmakers in the country as the 5-foot-10, 205 pound running back rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.

If he is not able to play Saturday, losing Love will be a big loss for the Cardinal. Senior running back Cameron Scarlett and junior Trevor Speights will try to fill in for Love if he cannot give it a go. The two running backs have combined for just 163 yards on 39 carries with one-third of those yards coming on two plays. And with Utah holding Washington State to zero yards rushing last week, the Utes will likely hold the Cardinal to their lowest rushing output of the season on Saturday.

If Love does try and play, the running back won’t likely be his explosive self and might do more harm than good for the Cardinal if he tries to play sooner than he should. Stanford head coach David Shaw noted that Love is “day-to-day” this week after re-injuring the same left ankle that troubled him last year. Love, has already missed a game this year due to an undisclosed injury in week 3.

So how much will Stanford miss Love if he can’t give it a go? Well, considering his only absence last year was against Oregon State in which Stanford squeaked by with a 15-14 victory, you can see how valuable he is to the offense. When he’s on the field, defenses pay special attention to him which opens up the field for his teammates.

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Why Utah Can Cover The Spread

While Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello is vastly improved from a year ago, the Cardinal offense is no Washington State with its Air Raid attack. That is good news for Ute fans which saw its secondary get burned repeatedly for big plays. Another silver lining is that the Utes did not allow any rushing yards for the game and are good at making teams one-dimensional. Stanford’s offensive line has also struggled a lot this year with injuries and inconsistent play.

Going up against a less than explosive offense, the Utes will battle it out in the trenches against the Cardinal with the contest coming down to wire once again. Over the past two meetings, each game has been decided by three points or less. The Utes are also 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 outings as underdogs on the road. Smart money here takes the points and the Utes.

Rushing Attack

Utah got back to its running ways as the Utes totaled 204 rushing yards on 50 attempts for an average of 4.1 yards per carry last week against Washington State. Junior running back Zack Moss had a game-high 30 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown. Junior quarterback Tyler Huntley added 88 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the 28-24 loss. Utah is going back to its old roots of running the ball and its a good sign that Moss is getting a lot of carries.

Big Plays

A single play can turn an entire game. Whether its a punt return, pick-6 or a deep pass, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows it all too well.

The Utes were heartbroken when Washington State scored a last-second touchdown to win the game. Like last year, Stanford’s Bryce Love – who was held in check for most of the game — broke off a 68-yard touchdown run to hep give the Cardinal a 23-20 road victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium. If you the Utes can limit Stanford’s big plays, they’ll have a great shot to knock off No. 14 Stanford.

Trends

Utah is 3-1 SU and 3-0-1 ATS in its last four games vs. Stanford. The total has gone under in Utah’s last four games vs. Stanford. Utah is 12-1 ATS in its last 13 games on the road vs. teams with winning records.

Utah is 14-14 all-time in games televised by ESPN and will be featured three more times on the network at least (Stanford Oct. 6, Arizona Oct. 12 and UCLA Oct. 26). Utah’s opponents are averaging just 2.6 yards per rush and have scored just two touchdowns in the second half. Utah’s best offensive quarter is in the first quarter (28 points) so if the Utes can get out to an early lead, I like their chances against No. 14 Stanford.

Like the two previous games, I expect another close and physical game between the two programs. However, I feel Utah will do just enough to walk out with the win.

Prediction: Utah 23, No. 14 Stanford 20

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