Monson: Utes must rob TCU QB of his confidence
There's a quote Utah's defense should hang on its lockers and on the walls of its team room in the days and hours running up to Saturday's game against TCU. It is the single most important notion it can cram into its collective cranium before the No. 3 BCS Frogs and the No. 5 BCS Utes do their bit of big business at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"Confidence is a very fragile thing."
That's the concept.
Just as significant is the man who gave utterance to it.
And here's the takeaway: If one of the best quarterbacks who ever played felt like his belief in himself was china in a bull shop, where's that leave Andy Dalton?
Job 1 for Utah defenders, then, will be to rob the fifth-year senior of his confidence. Terry Bradshaw once said that is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a quarterback. And the best way for the Utes to nudge Dalton in that direction is to pressure him, to chase him so far out of his comfort zone that he'll temporarily forget what it was that gave him so much confidence in the first place. It was, after all, that other great philosopher Mike Tyson who said, "Everybody has a plan â¦ until they get punched in the mouth."
Utah's defense has to punch Dalton in the mouth. But only if it wants to win Saturday and possibly go on to the Rose Bowl.
TCU has lost exactly one of its last 24 games, a 17-10 defeat to Boise State last January in the Fiesta Bowl. During that span, the Frogs have outscored their opponents by a ridiculous margin of 926 to 270. Fifty-five of those Frog points came against Utah last season.
What were the Broncos able to do that nobody else has done since the Utes beat TCU in 2008, quirkily enough on the same date Nov. 6 as this year's game, in the Fiesta Bowl?
Pressure Andy Dalton.
Make Dalton jumpy enough to chuck up three interceptions remarkable because he had thrown only five during the entire regular season in 2009 and two of those picks led to BSU touchdowns.
If the Horned Ones put just 10 points on Utah at Rice-Eccles the exact number they scored in Utah's 2008 victory the Utes will win again this time. Since the teams are matched athletically, the old truism about the team that makes the fewest mistakes winning comes into play even more than it typically does. And if turnovers will make one of the two teams losers, it makes complete sense to try to force those mistakes. The best way for the Utes to do that?
Pressure Andy Dalton.
Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake says as much, although he spoke cryptically about specifics of the game plan: "Our guys are ready for this one. â¦ We're going to demand that our guys play disciplined football and demand that they cause turnovers and get to the quarterback."
He cautions, however, that the Utes gave up "way too many big plays" in last season's 27-point defeat, so they have to find some means by which to stay balanced and still force Dalton into distress. In his fantasyland, Sitake would have the defensive front solitarily put on the game-changing push without selling out other assets, but the likelihood of that kind of Ute success is dubious.
Defensive end Christian Cox indicates that Utah will have something "special" in store for the Frogs, but remained vague about what that something is.
Here's a guess: Hit Dalton as much as possible, however possible. Disrupt his rhythm, make him think twice or three times, cause him to hurry throws and toss the loaf before he wants to, before his receivers move into full stride, exact a toll that flat-out costs too much, rob him of what a quarterback needs the most, the worst thing that can happen, the very fragile thing.
Pressure Andy Dalton.
The late, great Merlin Olsen once said of the old Rams' Fearsome Foursome: "Our whole philosophy was to intimidate the quarterback. We were able to do it. We were pioneers."
The Utes will have to follow the trail already blazed, then. If they can't do it with their front, they'll have to add to the mix, enough until together they can do it. If they do do it, they still might lose. But if they don't, they will lose.
Winning is a fragile thing, too.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.