Fighting for the championship

By Bryan Chouinard , Asst. Sports Editor

This weekend’s showdown between Mountain West Conference powerhouses Utah and TCU will strongly resemble that of 2008 in more ways than one.

Not only will Saturday’s matchup go a long way in determining the 2009 MWC Champion, but it will also add some clarity to the BCS picture for this season as well.

“It’s a big game,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “They are all big games, but this one has certainly more implications as far as sole position of first place. Hopefully we play well, ’cause we’ll need to.”

Much of Utah’s hopes of victory in Fort Worth will rest on the 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame of 19-year-old true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn. Wynn will be making only his second career D-I start and his first on the road8212;against the No. 3 defense in the nation.

“Nothing could prepare me for this,” Wynn said. “This is the biggest game of my life, and this is the best team I’ve ever played in my life, so nothing can fully prepare me for Saturday.”

Wynn showed why he earned the starting job in the first start of his career last week against New Mexico when he led the Utes to their most productive offensive performance of the season, with more than 500 yards of total offense and more than 40 points for the first time all season.

But the defense Wynn will face Saturday will be nothing like that of New Mexico, or any other team the Utes have faced all season. The Horned Frogs have a defense that is ranked top in the conference and, until last week, was No. 1 in the country. Wynn said he knows that if the Utes are going to be able to pull off the upset, they will have to be at their best.

“(TCU) looks good,” Wynn said. “You’re talking about a defense made up of NFL-type players. They got a lot of playmakers, and there is no weak link in that defense, so we’re going to have to go out and play a great game.”

Leading a TCU defense that Utah players and coaches alike have struggled to find holes in is All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes. Hughes has already recorded nine sacks in 2009 and leads the TCU defensive line in tackles with 41. The man who will be given the job of containing Hughes will most likely be Utah right guard Tony Bergstrom.

“There’s no weakness in (Hughes); he’s that good,” Bergstrom said. “The biggest thing is I have to be patient with him. I’ve seen him take advantage of a lot of tackles. The kid has a motor, so I’ve got to match that and finish every play.”

“(Hughes) is certainly a guy you need to be aware of and where he’s lined up,” Whittingham said. “He’ll be lined up on Tony Bergstrom, our right tackle, most of the time, and Tony needs to come ready to play, which I’m sure he will.”

Bergstrom leads all Utah offensive linemen in downs played and though the Utes have allowed 13 sacks this season, the key to victory will be protecting Wynn.

“(The offensive line) wants to protect Jordan (Wynn) at all costs,” Bergstrom said. “We feel like he’s our little brother, and we want to protect him against anything. I even go out with him on the weekends to make sure nobody messes with him.”

It will also be up to the offensive line to help create running lanes for running back tandem Eddie Wide and redshirt freshman Sausan Shakerin. Wide and Shakerin are both coming off career performances against New Mexico in which they rushed for 145 yards and 100 yards, respectively. A week after combining for 245 yards and four offensive touchdowns (three rushing and one receiving), Wide said he knows that the running game will be pivotal if the Utes are going to walk out of Fort Worth with their ninth win.

“They’re a pretty solid team,” Wide said. “The defense is really fast and really physical. They got a lot of playmakers on defense. Our offensive line is going to go out there and do their job. We’re going to have to execute and hopefully come out with the win.”

To this point in the season, the line has done its job and is a major factor in Wide breaking the school record with six straight 100-yard rushing performances.

“I feel really good,” Wide said. “The offensive line is doing a great job, and all the credit should go to them. My confidence is pretty high and hopefully that will continue.”

The Utes are 20-point underdogs in Saturday’s matchup and haven’t played an opponent ranked this high since the Sugar Bowl, when they beat the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide. But the Utes are still the defending MWC Champions8212;something Whittingham said he wants his players to remember.

“We’re the defending champs,” Whittingham said. “The championship trophy is in this building, and someone is going to have to take it from us. TCU is a very good football team, and we respect them, but the bottom line is we have played some good football this season, so we’re going to line up and see what happens.”

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Richard Payson/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Utah right guard Tony Bergstrom will most likely have the assignment to block TCU?s defensive end Jerry Hughes. The offensive line, including Bergstrom, will try to protect quarterback Jordan Wynn at all costs.