The Edge

Quarterback

Because of the offenses in place at each school, both the Utes’ Brett Ratliff and the Aggies’ Leon Jackson III are expected to be able to run the ball as well as pass. And thus far, Utah’s signal caller has been more successful at both. Ratliff overcame his first loss as a starter last week, looking like his old self with three touchdown passes and nearly 300 yards through the air. Jackson, on the other hand, has completed just 21 of 50 passes thus far and, even worse, has not led a single Aggie scoring drive. Not to mention that the athletic Jackson has averaged just 1.4 yards on 17 carries.

Edge: Utah

Running Backs

Utah State’s Marcus Cross was a workhorse last week, gaining 103 yards on 29 carries standing out as one of the team’s few bright spots. The Utes got their running game on track as well, as Darryl Poston and Mike Liti combined for 140 yards and each scored a touchdown-as did their backup, Darrell Mack. The two-headed starter is working so far, as each has been able to pick up solid yardage while remaining fresh. The one concern is that Mike Liti is suffering from bruised ribs, but the injury isn’t expected to be too serious.

Edge: Utah

Receivers

The Aggies’ receiving corps has caught just one pass of more than 20 yards and simply haven’t shown much big-play capability just yet. And that was with talented senior Tony Pennyman, who was kicked off the team for a violation of team rules earlier in the week. Utah’s receiving corps is undermanned as well, with various injuries hobbling both Brian Hernandez and Bradon Godfrey. But the remaining receivers have flashed plenty of talent, including Brent Casteel, Derrek Richards and Marquis Wilson. And talented Freddie Brown Jr., who transferred to the U last year, is starting to get more comfortable in the offense, catching three passes a week ago.

Edge: Utah

Offensive Line

There hasn’t been much to criticize about the U offensive line this season, as the front five has not allowed a sack yet. But people may not realize that the Aggies’ line isn’t too shabby either-quarterback Leon Jackson III has only been brought down once in two games. The determining factor, of course, is production from the running game. And while Marcus Cross was able to move the chains last week, the U’s O-line has been able to consistently create running lanes for Liti, Poston and Co.

Edge: Utah

Defensive Line

The Utes finally put pressure on the quarterback last week after failing to get to Ben Olson the week before. The run defense has been there all season, holding opposing runners to a meager 2.7 yards per rush. The Aggies’ three-man front, naturally designed to stop the run, hasn’t done the job, yielding exactly 500 yards on the ground in two weeks.

Edge: Utah

Linebackers

The makeup of the Utes’ linebacking corps has changed dramatically since the end of spring camp, with players being toggled around to different positions due to injury and other circumstances. But with Kyle Brady getting healthier and active freshman Stevenson Sylvester starting to step up already, the linebackers have more than made up for certain deficiencies in the secondary. For the Aggies, sophomore Jake Hutton and senior Devon Hall lead the way with 17 tackles each.

Edge: Utah

Secondary

Eric Weddle has moved back to cornerback in place of Shaun Harper, who suffered a fractured arm while grabbing the Utes’ first interception of the season. Harper’s absence hurts the Utes in terms of depth, but there’s no doubt to Weddle’s capabilities as a one-on-one cover man. There is probably not a better DB in the conference. The Utes will also benefit from the return of free safety Steve Tate, who will pair up with 2005 all-conference selection Casey Evans, who is making the switch back to safety. Utah State has only allowed 208.5 passing yards per contest, but opposing quarterbacks are completing more than 60 percent of their passes.

Edge: Utah

Special Teams

Louie Sakoda has been just about perfect this season, connecting on both his field-goal attempts and all his PATs while holding the top punting average (47.5 yards per boot) in the Mountain West Conference-by a longshot. Meanwhile, the Aggies have not attempted a field goal this year, while punters Leon Jackson III (yes, the same one) and Justin Hamblin have averaged around 35 yards per kick.

Edge: Utah

Coaching

Both Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and USU’s Brent Guy are in the second years of their respective reigns. And while neither has set the world on fire just yet, the results are as they are: Whittingham is 8-6 and Guy is 3-10. But while last year could be considered a transitional phase for both, 2006 is a different story. With a year under their belts, both are expected to take their teams onward and upward. For Utah, that means getting back to the top of the MWC. For USU, that means eventually contending for a WAC title-and being able to hold up against in-state foes wouldn’t hurt, either.

Edge: Utah