For the fifth straight week, the Utes have a good chance to either fall flat on their faces or look good. Today's noon game at Rice Stadium features Utah vs. Colorado State in another battle of the also-rans.
Since Sept. 30, when Utah played San Diego State, the Utes have had a string of games against losing teams. CSU, 3-4-1, completed its home schedule last week by stunning Hawaii 31-16. The Rams are surprisingly physical and had no serious problem with Hawaii, a team that battered Utah 67-20.After spending six of the first eight weeks of the season on the road, the Utes barely know what it's like to be home. But they now play CSU, New Mexico and Air Force in Salt Lake, with the only remaining road game being 45 miles south, when they play at BYU, Nov. 18.
"CSU is a good football team which has played a tough schedule," said Coach Jim Fassel. "We're glad to be home, but we'll have to play very well to win. Colorado State has momentum after its big win over Hawaii."
First-year CSU Coach Earle Bruce has taken a group of players that went 1-10 last year and formed a fairly dangerous team, changing the offense to an I-formation option attack. Last week running back Tony Alford, who is ninth in the league in rushing, set a school record by going 80 yards from scrimmage for a touchdown run. He has carried for 624 yards on the season.
The Rams remain weak on defense, ranking seventh in the WAC and 99th nationally in total defense.
CSU is hoping for the return of quarterback Kevin Verdugo, whose injured right shoulder has hampered him since the second game of the season. If Verdugo, who is listed as questionable for the game, isn't available, CSU will go with junior Mike Giminez, who started the last six games. Giminez is ninth in the WAC in passing efficiency.
"I think we match up very well against CSU, if you want to know the truth," said Fassel.
Utah is coming off a narrow 27-24 win over Stanford last week. Although it was a much-needed win, the Utes are cautious about the significance of beating a team that is now 1-6 - and one that nearly came back to win in the closing seconds.
"The Stanford win was fun," said offensive backfield coach Wayne McQuivey. "But was it comforting? No. We should have beaten Stanford by 30 points and we didn't. With five seconds to go, we were still holding our breath. But I hope it's an adrenaline boost that ignites the kids."
He continued, "If we're clicking on all cylinders, we'll beat the heck out of CSU. If not, then it will be a good, close football game."
Clicking on all the cylinders isn't exactly a habit with the Utes. They rank next-to-last (104) nationally in total defense and 98th against the run. The vaunted offense has occasionally been erratic and error-prone, hurt by interceptions and fumbles. Utah, which led the nation in total offense and passing offense last year, ranks 10th and third, respectively, this year.
Utah got an unusually good performance from its thin offensive line last week. The Utes did not allow quarterback Scott Mitchell to be sacked all afternoon. But with starting center Jeff Parson listed as questionable this week and tackle Brian Anderson playing on a sore ankle, they could have trouble if anyone goes down this week.
Utah continues to get fine play from defensive end Joe Clausi, who had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery last week.