As tall a task as the Utah defense faces in stopping Stanford’s rushing attack and the nation’s leading rusher, Bryce Love, there’s also an intriguing matchup between the Stanford defense and the Utah offense.
On paper, Stanford’s defense appears a bit more vulnerable than some of its recent versions. Stanford has allowed an average of 444.2 yards per game (6.2 per play) and given up 25.4 points per game. Stanford’s aggressive brand of man-to-man defense could open the door for the Utes to go on the attack, especially with this season’s more pass-oriented offense.
Stanford’s increased amount of man-to-man coverage in the secondary compared to previous seasons was one of the first things that jumped out at Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, and that could play a big role in how this weekend’s game unfolds. The Utes have shown the ability to produce explosive plays in the passing game this season.
“I feel like we’re hard to guard, especially if you’re going to just come up and press us and play man,” Utes senior quarterback Troy Williams said. “We’ll see. I’m excited to see what they’re going to do against us, especially with the type of wide receivers that we have and the big-play capability that they have. If that’s what they want to come out and do, so be it. We’re just try to take full advantage of it.”
Stanford at No. 20 Utah
Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • FS1
Last season, just four opponents scored 24 points or more on Stanford, while that threshold has been reached by Stanford opponents in three of this season’s first five games, including when USC ripped through that defense for 623 yards of total offense on its way to 42 points.
With quarterback Tyler Huntley’s status still uncertain — even healthy starters did little to no on-field work during the bye week — after he suffered a shoulder injury against Arizona, Williams took the bye week to familiarize himself with Stanford’s defense. That included closely watching this past weekend’s game against Arizona State.
“They didn’t really change up their defensive plan from what I saw,” Williams said. “It was a lot of man coverage, a little zone here and there but they were really true to what they been doing all year.”
Giving up chunks of yards on the ground is one of the things that Stanford’s defense has been doing this season. Even in this past weekend’s win over Arizona State, Stanford allowed 214 rushing yards. USC rushed for 307 yards against the Cardinal.
Offensive lineman Darrin Paulo certainly hopes the Utes can take advantage of Stanford’s inconsistency stopping the run game. Paulo said the Utes reconstructed offensive line — four starters are new — has made significant strides since the opener against North Dakota. The unit used the bye week as a chance to do some self-assessment
“We’re trying to get back our run game,” Paulo said. “It’s not as [good] as we expected right now, but it’s going to get there. Hopefully, this is the game where it goes off. It would be good since they did give up a lot of yards. Hopefully, we’ll find their weaknesses and exploit it.”
While Huntley provided a big part of the running attack prior to getting injured — he currently ranks second on the team in rushing yards (208) — Whittingham also considers Williams a credible threat as a running quarterback.
“He’s a very capable runner,” Whittingham said of Williams. “I think he’d rather beat you with his arm than his legs, but he can certainly pull the ball down or designed QB runs. You saw him get the touchdown on the designed QB run in the Arizona game. He’s very capable of that.”