Thursday Night Football: TCU at Utah
by Matt Severance - 11/05/2008
Typical lack of respect for the Mountain West Conference: Arguably its biggest game in years, No. 10 Utah and No. 11 TCU, is relegated to some TV network you've never heard of while two slightly above average ACC teams, Maryland and Virginia Tech, get the national ESPN coverage.
Oh well, if you can watch Thursday's game between the Horned Frogs (9-1, 6-0) and Utes (9-0, 5-0) do so, because it's basically a BCS bowl elimination game, with Utah a 2-point home dog on BookMaker.
The Utes are eighth in the latest BCS standings, while the Horned Frogs are 12th. The Frogs can clinch at least a share of their first Mountain West title since 2005 with a victory (they have only Air Force remaining), while Utah would still need to win at least one more game to earn a share of the crown (and it still has to play San Diego State and ranked rival BYU).
Other than a loss to Oklahoma this year, TCU has barely been challenged, winning its five games since that Sooner setback by an average of 28.4 points. It hasn't given up more than two touchdowns in its wins and has been allowing 10.8 points a game, No. 3 in the country. TCU's defense ranks second nationally, giving up 214.5 yards, and has the best run defense, allowing only 38.9 yards, and most sacks in the nation with 38, seven more than any other team in the nation.
And as if that weren't daunting enough for Utah, TCU has won 65 consecutive games when holding opponents to 17 points or less. The over/under for this game on BookMaker is 43.5.
And that Frog offense is no slouch, especially since QB Andy Dalton has raised his game. He has passed for nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the last three games after missing two contests because of a knee injury.
As a redshirt freshman, Dalton threw four interceptions - one that was returned for a touchdown - in TCU's 27-20 loss to Utah last year.
"Dalton has really come into his own," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He has not made mistakes, and he is the catalyst for why they're having so much success on the offensive side.
"TCU has no weaknesses and they are playing exceptional football in all three phases of the game."
The Utes, who have won nine straight at home, are No. 20 in the nation in scoring, averaging 36.1 per game, and No. 30 in rushing, averaging 154.0 yards a game - also have rushed for 520 total yards in the past two games. But they struggled last week in a 13-10 loss to New Mexico.
Dual-threat QB Brian Johnson has thrown for 1,820 yards and 14 TDs, and the Utes have a good two-pronged running attack in Darrell Mack (101 carries, 465 yards) and Matt Asiata (102 carries, 531 yards).
Their defense is also among the nation's best, ranking No. 7 in the country by surrendering only 266.2 yards per game.
Utah leads the all-time series with TCU, 4-1, and is 2-0 in the series at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Horned Frogs' lone win was a 23-20 overtime decision in Fort Worth in 2005. Utah is 4-0 all-time in games in which both the Utes and their foe were ranked in the top 25.
"We are throwing history out the window," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "We do not need to follow tradition. I hadn't won a Thursday night game in a couple years either, but we beat BYU (earlier this year)."
Bet on TCU-Utah at BookMaker.