STANFORD, Calif. — A headline in The Paris Review, last July, said, “Ugliness is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings.” The article called some of the works “hideous” and “disturbing,” but went on to defend their value.
Sounds like a Utah-Stanford football game.
In defense of defense, Saturday’s contest might be so ugly you can’t look away.
The only thing left to decide is whether it will be ugly for all the wrong reasons.
Comparisons between programs are inescapable. In a conference of speed and finesse, the Utes and Cardinal come off as blue-collar cousins. That’s strange, considering neither represents a blue-collar school.
Students do call Stanford “The Farm,” but that’s not the full story. It’s a pleasing sandstone and red-tile campus in a serene setting. The nickname came from its origins on farmland once owned by Leland and Jane Stanford. But it’s now part of the south end of the San Francisco Bay area, where the median home price is $3.2 million and rapidly rising.
If you earn $250,000 annually, don’t expect to buy.
Utah isn’t in nearly as trendy a place. But it is a city campus, with a renowned medical school, quality athletic facilities and spectacular scenery.
There’s nothing farm-y about either school.
Both football teams like to believe they put on their dungarees and go to work. In reality, the universities are more about lab coats and tweed. But the unrelenting work ethics of Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Stanford’s David Shaw have always generated compelling games.
The all-time series is tied 4-4, but until last year the Utes had won three straight, dating to 1996 — before Whittingham was head coach. Scores have been close throughout. Utah wins have come by three, seven, six and three points. Discounting two games early last century, Stanford wins have been by seven and three.
How does Utah vs. Stanford rate in terms of watchability?— Deseret News Sports (@desnewssports) October 4, 2018
“Having talked to Kyle about this over the years, I mean both teams gear up for this game — potentially the most physical game of the year for both of us,” Shaw said. “Both teams are going to go hard, both teams are going to be physical, both teams are going to be in attack mode. You can’t flinch, you can’t back down, you can’t take a play off. That’s the way this game’s going to be.”
Don’t expect them to paint a breezy Monet; plan on a Pollock.
“We’ve always been able to stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with them,” Whittingham said.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be great talent on display. Bryce Love, last year’s Heisman runner-up, continues to pound the middle until something bursts. Five runners-up in the last nine years played for Stanford. But defense should rule the day. Stanford is 22nd in scoring defense, Utah 14th.
Opponents visit the end zone by invitation only.
“We are both traditionally physically run-oriented teams,” Whittingham said. “That is certainly the case this year with them. They are a run team first.”
While that is generally true, Stanford has mixed it up almost evenly this season, rushing on 138 plays and passing on 145. Utah has done much the same, passing 133 times and rushing 153.
There are numerous factors that will determine Saturday’s contest, none more important than Love’s injured ankle. Shaw said Love’s availability is day-to-day. The star back left last week’s game with Stanford trailing Notre Dame by seven; it ended up a 21-point deficit. Shaw called it “our worst game of the year against the best team we’ve played.”
“We can’t make mistakes against really good football teams and expect to win,” he said.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, that doesn’t describe the 2018 Utes.
This game is likely to come down to the Luuuuuuve. Will he play? Will he be himself? Will the Utah defense yield to his repeated pounding?
“He gets a sliver of daylight,” Whittingham said, “he’s gone.”
Along with it would go Utah’s already thin hopes for a championship. Utah would be 0-3 in conference.
That’s an ugly option to consider.