SDSU vs. UTAH: Something’s gotta give

The No. 9 U football team (7-0, 3-0) heads to San Diego this weekend for a duel with the struggling San Diego State Aztecs (2-5, 0-3).

The game is set to kick-off at 6:07 p.m. PDT (7:07 p.m. MDT), and will be televised locally on KJZZ.

Looking to break a four-game losing skid, the Aztecs will pit one of the Mountain West Conference’s top defensive units against the Utes’ nationally ranked spread option offensive attack.

The battle is one many anticipated at the beginning of the year as a game that could potentially trip up the Utes’ attempt at an undefeated season, but with the two teams on drastically different courses, the anticipation has dwindled in recent weeks.

Still, the Utes will have to be careful as they take on a defensive squad loaded with talent. U head coach Urban Meyer said the Aztecs are “as talented as any team we will play this year,” with most of its talent concentrated on the defensive side of the ball. With the advantage of the nation’s best weather, Meyer admitted that SDSU is one of the best recruiters in the conference.

“San Diego State is hard to beat in nose-to-nose recruiting,” Meyer said. “In pure talent, I’d say they are one of the one or two best teams in the conference.”

After nearly defeating No. 17 Michigan in the second game of the season, the Aztecs looked every bit the dominant team many expected them to be.

Meyer said that after watching game tape of the Michigan vs. San Diego State game, he was surprised the Aztecs failed to defeat the Wolverines, noting that the talent levels of both teams were similar.

“[San Diego State’s] players are as good as Michigan’s,” Meyer said.

Unable to explain why the Aztecs have managed only two victories so far this season, Meyer insisted that taking on the SDSU defense will be one of the team’s harder challenges of the year.

“I talked to our offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and he said this is the best defense we’ll face all year,” Meyer said.

The game will feature a Ute offense that is averaging 488.9 yards of total offense per game (ranked fourth nationally) against a defense that hasn’t allowed a conference opponent to gain more than 300 yards in four consecutive games dating back to last season.

The Aztec defense finished the season last year ranked No. 8 nationally in yards allowed per game, earning them the title of the “dark side defense,” and with almost all of the same players still on the squad, the explosive U offense will likely encounter some difficulty.

Currently ranked No. 1 in the MWC in yards allowed per game, the focal point of the dark side defense is the line-backing core, which consists of four seniors that have played together since they were freshmen. Meyer said that Aztec linebackers Matt McCoy and Kirk Morrison are “two of the best linebackers in the conference,” and they have the stats to prove it.

Morrison was recently named as a Butkus Award semifinalist, which puts him among the top 12 linebackers in the conference. Morrison has had 10 or more tackles in five straight games, and he leads the MWC with 72 tackles on the season. He was also the MWC Defensive Player of the Year last season.

McCoy, who has recorded 61 tackles and 3 sacks so far this season, was named MWC defensive player of the week for an 18-tackle performance two weeks ago against Colorado State, a performance that also earned him the Bronco Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week award.

Linebackers anchor the Aztecs, but the defensive unit is solid all-around. Senior defensive lineman Blake Lobell is second in the conference in sacks with five, and the Aztec secondary is loaded, touting five of the top ten in the MWC’s “passes defended” category.

Although the Aztecs have had trouble with meaningful offensive production, their defense has remained proud, often being asked to make up for turnovers deep in Aztec territory. On 17 possessions that started on San Diego State’s side of the field, opposing teams have scored just 23 points on two touchdowns and three field goals, an impressive feat by any standard.

With just four games left, Meyer called the final stretch “the hardest four games of the year,” and if the Utes’ dreams of a BCS berth are to remain intact, they will need a resounding defeat on the road of an underperforming team with a top-tier defense.

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