Dealing with the identity crisis

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Being the beat writer for Utah football, I often get asked what I think of the team or how I think it will finish the season. My response is always the same-which Utah team are we talking about? Are we talking about the one that can beat Top-25 teams at will? Or the one that got shut out by UNLV?

When the Utes are rollin’ they are almost unbeatable. They always raise their level of play to match that of a good opponent. They also have a tendency to play down to teams that they should beat handily.

Not at Lagoon, Seven Peaks or even Six Flags can you experience the rollercoaster of emotions Utah fans have experienced this season. It went from, “When does basketball start?” after opening the season with consecutive losses to Air Force and Oregon State to “Hmm, we might be pretty good” after thrashing UCLA to “This sucks” after getting blanked by UNLV.

Now, the Utes are finally starting to figure things out and have strung together a four-game winning streak thanks to two gimmies at home (San Diego State, Utah State) and two tough road wins over TCU and Louisville.

The streak hasn’t been pretty by any means, but the team finally seems to have found a winning template. That formula seems to contain a heavy dosage of Darrell Mack and solid defense-a throwback to the older version of Utah football, before the high-flying Urban Meyer attack that dominated conference.

The most important question to Utah fans is whether the Utes will be peaking when they take their game down to “the land of truth and virtue” in late November or if they will suffer another letdown somewhere along the way.

The latter portion of the schedule is definitely set up to work to Utah’s advantage. This week, they head to Fort Collins, Colo., to face a Colorado State team that has won one out of its last 14 games. Yes, they won last week against UNLV, but the sun shines upon everyone at least once. Utah’s run defense has been stellar as of late but will definitely be tested this week against the Rams’ Gartrell Johnson.

After CSU, the Utes play some of the best in the Mountain West Conference in Wyoming and New Mexico, but they do so within the friendly confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Still, the Utes will have to get more creative on the offensive end of the field if they want to keep their streak alive.

Darrell Mack is no longer a secret, having now ascended to No. 1 in the conference in rushing yards per game (106.7). Teams are going to start focusing on Mack and make the still-ailing Brian Johnson beat them with his arm.

How the Utes and their coaching staff respond to that adjustment might very well determine whether they are 8-3 or 6-5 heading into the rivalry game against BYU.

The Utes have answered plenty of questions to this point as to how good they are.

Can the Utes continue rolling up victories in the meat of their MWC schedule? Can they win a game if trailing or tied at halftime (they are currently 0-3 in that situation)? Can the Utah defense continue its rigid run defense against some of the best backs in the conference?

I would love to tell you the answer to those questions, but in my opinion, it all depends.

Which Utah team are we talking about here?

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