Utah vs. Wyoming: The Edge

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Quarterback

Brian Johnson is beginning to hit form for the Utes. Complementing a strong running game with dink and dunk passes has been Johnson’s forte since injuring his shoulder. His proven running ability keeps defenses honest. For Wyoming, Karsten Sween has posted 12 touchdown passes, but his inaccuracy and poor decision-making has led him to throw 15 interceptions as well. Sween has proven clutch this season for the Cowboys, throwing game-winning touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter against both Ohio and UNLV.

Edge: Utah

Running back

Devin Moore and Wynel Seldon have one-two punched opponents all season long. Combining for more than 1,200 yards and 10 total touchdowns, the tandem of junior tailbacks is fueling the Cowboy offense. Smashing his way to the top of the Mountain West Conference, Darrell Mack is tied for the conference high in yards per game with 112.2. In his last five games, Mack is averaging more than 130 yards per contest. However, the depth is spotty at best for Utah at running back. Saturday will showcase Mack against the two-headed monster of Moore and Seldon.

Edge: Even

Wide receiver

Both Utah and Wyoming learned how to share in preschool. Each team boasts seven receivers with 10 or more catches, including backs and tight ends. The difference? Six Utah wide receivers average more than 10 yards per catch, and Marquis Wilson averages more than 15 yards per grab. Wyoming has half as many wideouts averaging that kind of yardage. To make up for that, the Cowboys adjust their passing game to allow for heavy contribution from running backs and tight ends. Johnson has speed in Wilson and Derrek Richards and dependability in Brian Hernandez and Brandon Godfrey.

Edge: Utah

Offensive line

Although neither unit has been stellar in protecting its quarterback (Utah has allowed 21 sacks, and Wyoming has allowed 20), both have specialized in creating gaping holes for running backs. Utah has fought through injuries and shifts to become a dependable unit. Wyoming has destroyed opponents by creating enormous gaps for their backs, allowing for rushes of 35 and 48 yards against Boise State and New Mexico, respectively.

Edge: Even

Defensive line

Utah’s defense is the anchor that has kept the team in the harbor rather than floating away into the great beyond. Most coaches will tell you that defense starts on the defensive line. Martail Burnett, Paul Kruger, Gabe Long and Co. have been tough to move this season, but Wyoming’s line doesn’t slouch. Wyoming gives up the second-least rushing yards per game in the MWC and 13th least in the nation. Defensive tackle John Fletcher leads the MWC with eight sacks, and defensive end Mitch Unrein has added five.

Edge: Wyoming

Linebackers

Ward Dobbs leads Wyoming’s linebacking core into battle with his team-high 73 tackles. Senior Sean Claffey has four pass breaks and one-and-a-half sacks to complement Dobbs’ performance. Meanwhile, linebacking duties for the U are steered by Stevenson Sylvester and Koa Misi. The two have combined for more than 100 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. The loss of senior Kyle Brady to a season-long injury has forced younger players to step up at linebacker for the Utes.

Edge: Wyoming

Secondary

Two of the MWC’s best pass defenses will knock heads tomorrow at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Wyoming and Utah rank second and third, respectively, in pass defense in the conference. TCU ranks ahead of the two teams. Although the Cowboys give up less yardage, Utah has forced more turnovers. Behind the hard hitting of safety Steve Tate and the playmaking of corner Sean Smith, the Utes are poised to make a big play in the secondary at all times. Besides, the Cowboys have given up 12 passing touchdowns compared to seven allowed by the Utes.

Edge: Utah

Special teams

Utah gains twice as much yardage per punt return than Wyoming, and “Sweet” Louie Sakoda has been money on almost every field goal, punt and extra point. Wyoming punts the ball well, but Utah’s kickoff coverage is tops in the league. Throw in some decent kickoff return yardage, and all signs point to Utah to make a big special teams play at a crucial time.

Edge: Utah

Coaching

After finishing third in the MWC last season and returning many key players, Joe Glenn and the Cowboys were hoping to contend for a conference title in 2007. Plans didn’t pan out, and Wyoming is fighting to finish as well as it did last season. Utah got off to a slow start this season but has picked up pace under Kyle Whittingham. The third-year head coach and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig turned the team’s focus to running the ball and defense, a familiar formula for Utah.

Edge: Utah