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Utah Utes football: TCU’s defense, speed a concern for Utes

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TCU's Horned Frogs won't be hopping into Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday. After winning five straight games by an average of more than 28 points, they're more likely to come in with a stomp.

And Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows it.

"TCU has no weaknesses and they are playing exceptional football in all three phases of the game," he said. "They are leading the conference in several categories and doing a lot of good things. They are a confident football team and are playing well. We will have our work cut out for us."

The 11th-ranked Horned Frogs (9-1, 6-0) present plenty of challenges. They're among the national leaders in rushing defense (first, 38.90 ypg), total defense (second, 214.50 ypg), kickoff returns (second, 28.87 ypr), scoring defense (third, 10.80 ppg), turnover margin (third, 1.50), pass efficiency defense (96.15 rating) and rushing offense (12th, 224 ypg).

"TCU is playing great football right now and the Horned Frogs' team speed is exceptional," said Whittingham, whose 10th-ranked Utes (9-0, 5-0) have quickness as well.

"I see a lot of similarities. We both have speed. Offensively we mix the spread in and there are schematic similarities. We both run the ball very well. There are a lot of similarities between the two offenses," he continued. "The

bottom line is that both teams are having good seasons and each is trying to stay in the (Mountain West Conference) title hunt. It's an important game like any other conference game."

This one, however, may be a little more important. Utah is No. 8 in the BCS standings and TCU is 12th. The winner will remain in contention for a lucrative bowl berth.

The stakes, thus, are quite high.

"It's a big ball game because it's the next one," Patterson said. "But, you know, it's two teams that have won a lot of football games this year."

Like Whittingham, Patterson also sees a lot of other common ground.

"I would agree totally with what he said. We're strong on defense. We're going to make people try to beat you with their left arm as to the right one as far as where they try to go with things," he said. "Obviously you better get ready because both teams are going to come right at you."

TCU's defense, however, has done especially well this season. The Horned Frogs lead the nation in sacks with 38, seven more than any other team in the nation. Defensive end Jerry Hughes leads the way with 14. The All-American candidate also has five forced fumbles and three recoveries.

And as if that weren't enough for Utah to worry about, TCU has won 65 consecutive games when holding opponents to 17 points or less.

The streak includes 2008 wins over New Mexico, Stephen F. Austin, Stanford, SMU, San Diego State, Colorado State, BYU, Wyoming and UNLV. The Horned Frogs' lone loss this season was a 35-10 setback in Oklahoma on Sept. 27.

It was also the low point in terms of point production.

The offense, however, has since gotten back on track. In three games since returning from a knee injury, quarterback Andy Dalton has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions. The consistency has helped TCU rack up 130 points over the stretch.

EXTRA POINTS: Utah leads the all-time series with TCU, 4-1. The Horned Frogs' lone win was a 23-20 overtime decision in Fort Worth in 2005. ... Standing-room only tickets have been sold, meaning attendance could top the school-record 46,768 who attended the Cal game in 2003. ... Men's basketball coach Jim Boylen is scheduled to address the crowd.

Utes on the air

No. 11 TCU (9-1, 6-0) at No. 10 Utah (9-0, 5-0)

Thursday, 6 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium


Radio: 700 AM

Live game blog:deseretnews.com/blogs

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com