The Edge

QuarterbackIn their first full season as starters, Utah’s Brett Ratliff and CSU’s Caleb Hanie have had mixed results. On one hand, despite their inconsistency, the Utes have still scored more than 28 points per game, second best in the conference. Meanwhile, the typically potent CSU offense has floundered. During their current four-game losing streak, the Rams were shut out once (by Wyoming) and managed just three points last week against BYU. However, the Rams’ lack of a running game has had a lot to do with that-Hanie is still completing 64 percent of his passes and his efficiency rating is higher than that of Ratliff. The difference is Ratliff has thrown nearly twice as many touchdown passes. Edge: Even

Running BacksHistorically speaking, Colorado State under Sonny Lubick’s reign has been strong from year to year. Well, in 2006, it has been anything but. The Rams’ leading rusher, Gartrell Johnson III, is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. As a team, they manage less than 70 yards on the ground per contest. The Utes, while limited in the running game by depleted depth and the lack of a feature back, still have double the Rams’ success on the ground. In light of Mike Liti’s season-ending injury and R.J. Stanford’s switch to defensive back, Darryl Poston will now shoulder an even bigger load.Edge: Utah

ReceiversCaleb Hanie has the second-most passing yards in the league (behind BYU’s John Beck) in large part because Johnny Walker, Damon Morton and Kory Sperry have been able to consistently get open. Utah has had a similar strategy to CSU, spreading the ball around to a multitude of receivers instead of relying on one go-to guy. For Utah, the big-play guys have been Brent Casteel and Derrek Richards, but if the team could get Brian Hernandez, Marquis Wilson and Bradon Godfrey a little more involved, it might open things up for an offense that has struggled from time to time.Edge: Even

Offensive LineHanie has been put on his back repeatedly all season long, suffering 34 sacks (second-worst in the conference) in nine games. No wonder the Rams’ offense has struggled so much. The Utes’ front five, on the other hand, has yielded just eight sacks and paved the way for the team’s running-back-by-committee unit to tack on nearly 138 rushing yards per game. CSU hasn’t been lucky in that regard, either; in other words, when looking at the Rams’ struggles this season, a lot can point directly back to the O-line.Edge: Utah

Defensive LineThank goodness for the bye week. The Utes’ probable all-conference defensive tackle Kelly Talavou missed just one full game after going down with a knee sprain against New Mexico. Talavou, one of the top run-stuffers in the league, will be back in the starting lineup this weekend and ready to wreak havoc on an already weak CSU running game.Edge: Utah

LinebackersWith the added week of rest and rehabilitation comes more depth for the Ute linebacking corps. Kyle Brady and Stevenson Sylvester, who have battled various injuries in recent weeks that have kept them off the field on a full-time basis, should be at or near full strength this weekend, and should once again prove complementary to tackle machine Joe Jiannoni, who is sixth in the MWC in tackles despite missing action earlier this season. The Rams’ ‘backers aren’t too shabby, either, led by seniors Luke Adkins (59 tackles, including 3.5 for loss) and Jon Radford (50 tackles, 2 forced fumbles).Edge: Even

SecondaryAll year long, the focus on the Ute defense has been on Eric Weddle. That attention has certainly been warranted, as the senior DB-who has 35 tackles, six interceptions, two fumble recoveries and four touchdowns this season-was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. But the Ute secondary as a whole has had its ups and downs, as the group has been exposed in recent weeks by the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico. CSU, on the other hand, has the third-ranked pass defense in the conference. Strong safety Mike Pagnotta has six tackles for loss and three sacks on the season in just his second season.Edge: Even

Special TeamsThere is little contest here. Utah leads the conference in kick return average, as Brice McCain has added a spark to the unit in recent weeks. Also, Louie Sakoda has missed just two field goals all year while pulling double duty as the team’s punter, and doing a solid job at both. Meanwhile, CSU placekicker has made just 5-of-11 field-goal attempts, the worst percentage in the league.Edge: Utah

CoachingIt may be unfair, or at least unbalanced, to compare a second-year head coach to such a seasoned veteran as Sonny Lubick. But that’s the match-up this weekend. And while Lubick’s Rams have lost four-straight, he still has a slew of conference titles and national coaching honors to his name. Whittingham, despite a load of talent, hasn’t been a consistent winner just yet. The bottom line is, the jury is still out on Whittingham and Lubick is a proven winner.Edge: Colorado State