2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - Montana State at Utah
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Sept. 1 at Utah 27 … Montana State 10
CFN Analysis: Utah got out to an early lead against Montana State and didn't seem able to do much more after the first 24 points. The offense didn't have any sense of urgency, and it showed. However, it's not like the Utes were taking any chances, and it became obvious that they weren't going to show anything to USC. Jordan Wynn completed 15-of-23 passes, but he didn't go down the field at all throwing for just 101 yards with two scores. John White was the revelation with 150 yards and a score, and he was the key to putting the game away early; the offense will revolve around him, not Wynn, for now. This wasn't a sharp game, but that's what Montana State is for. Now the Utes have to be far better and mistake-free to have a shot at USC.
(AP) SALT LAKE CITY -- John White rushed for 150 yards with two touchdowns in his major-college debut and converted linebacker Brian Blechen intercepted two passes as the Utah Utes opened with a 27-10 victory Thursday night over Montana State.
Blechen set up Utah's first score with a 35-yard interception return, and Matt Martinez set up the second with his second career blocked punt.
The win was Utah's first as a member of the Pac-12 Conference and helped the Utes improve to 10-0 against the Bobcats and 32-0 against Big Sky teams.
The road only gets tougher for the Utah, which opens Pac-12 play at USC next weekend before traveling to Provo for a game against BYU.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn was making his first start since December shoulder surgery that kept him out of the Las Vegas Bowl. While hardly spectacular, he managed the new pro-style offense under Norm Chow, completing 15 of 23 passes for 101 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions.
Sophomore DeNarius McGhee tossed a second-quarter TD for the Bobcats, who were without their leading rusher from a year ago and three projected offensive line starters.
There were plenty of questions going into Thursday's game.
How would Utah's offense come together with a new coordinator and new running back?
Would Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder hold up?
And, finally, how would the Utes' revamped secondary fare against a player who was touted as one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS?
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham will certainly take the victory but knows there's plenty of room for improvement with a wicked road ahead.
"We were running the ball pretty effectively in the first half," Whittingham said. "Our defense did a nice job of setting up the first score, and special teams set up the second. But we've got to play with more urgency on offense. The tempo is too slow."
The Utes were without starting left tackle John Cullen, who did not play because of a concussion but is expected back against the Trojans. They also lost left guard Vyncent Jones for a while in the first half.
White, who won the starting running back job during fall camp, was a bright spot offensively for the Utes.
The 2010 Central West Conference offensive player of the year at L.A. Harbor College went over 100 yards on the night with a 29-yard fourth-quarter run. The 5-foot-8, 186-pound scatback added a 25-yard gain in the closing minutes.
Blechen, whose overtime interception helped Utah upset 15th-ranked Pitt in last year's season-opener, was the defensive standout.
He added about 10 pounds to make the transition from safety to linebacker. Though he still showed plenty of quickness, covering slot receivers at times, he came up short of the end zone on his first interception.
Utah built a 24-0 second quarter lead, primarily controlling the ball on the ground.
Wynn found wide receiver DeVonte Christopher open across the middle for a 7-0 Utah lead. He tossed his second TD of the quarter, a 5-yarder to White, to cap a 9-play, 62-yard drive that put Utah ahead 14-0.
Coleman Petersen had battled Nick Marsh all camp for the right to be Utah's place-kicker. He won the battle and delivered, hitting a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 44-yarder in the third.
Utah outgained Montana State 292-258 and held a 16-12 advantage in first downs.
Montana State, which won a share of the Big Sky title last season with a 9-3 record, still has never beaten a Pac-12 institution.
McGhee would finish with 183 yards passing but was sacked twice and didn't get much going until the second half. By then he was playing catch-up.
White started strong and never slowed.
"I'm so happy right now. I feel good," White said. "I've been waiting a long time for this moment. We'll improve. That was just a taste of what's to come."
Montana State (0-0) at Utah (0-0) Sept.
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Here's the Deal...
Auburn had a parade to celebrate its BCS title, but also held a celebration of its own after joining the Pac-12 and making the move into the big-time. The Utes are excited and prepared to make a mark on their new conference, and it starts with a decent game against a solid FCS team.
Since the BCS started in 1998, Utah has more BCS wins than 10 of its 11 fellow members of the Pac-12. Only USC (3) has more than Utah (2). One of the first moves Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made was to bring in offensive guru and longtime Pac-10 coordinator Norm Chow, who scrapped the Ute's spread offense for a new pro-style attack.
Montana State isn't the typical FCS team coming in to take its lickings and paycheck. The Bobcats are coming off their most successful season in program history with nine wins and plenty of promise going forward, beginning the 2011 season ranked in the FCS preseason top five in several polls. They bring a high-scoring offense into Salt Lake City that averaged 37.4 points per game a year ago, and most of the key parts are back to provide more than just a light scrimmage.
Why Utah Might Win:
The Utes defensive front is comprised of game-changers who should bring the pressure into the backfield all game long. While they don't return a single starter, it's an experienced front four with the talent and ability to dominate line and control the game. The 11th ranked rush defense in the country in 2010 only gave up 112 yards per game, and there doesn't appear to be much of a drop off coming. The front seven should be able to take away the run while making the Bobcats one-dimensional. Offensively, Norm Chow's attack last year at UCLA finished 116th out of 120 teams in passing yards, but injuries were a problem and he didn't have quite the talent as he does with the Utes.
Utah's offense will be running a new system, but will still have many of its old functioning parts led by quarterback Jordan Wynn and receiver DeVonte Christopher, who should be able to connect at least five times and should make a big difference on third downs. The backfield is still unsettled, but John White appears to be separating himself as the starter. As soon as the offense finds its footing, it should be able to break some big plays and put this game away before halftime.
Why Montana State Might Win:
The Utes don't have a quick-strike offense, with their first quarter scoring falling well below the other three. If Montana State is able to go down and score first, and if it can take on the early momentum, it might take a while for Utah to battle back. The last time the Bobcats defeated a BCS opponent was 2006 when they upset Colorado, but they're much better and much stronger now with the talent on both sides of the ball. If the Bobcats can buy some time for quarterback Denarius McGhee to spread the ball around, the pass rush will subside and the mediocre Utah secondary will be on its heels. McGhee threw for 3,163 yards and 23 touchdowns to nine different players last fall, and he should be able to spread the ball around. In the Utes' three losses last year, they had nine turnovers and averaged fewer than 80 yards of rushing. The Bobcats have a good enough defense to take the ball away at least twice.
What To Watch Out For:
The Utah running back trio of White, Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo. White is a junior college transfer, Langi is the highly-touted freshman and Palamo is a walk-on rugby player who has created a big buzz with his toughness and production every time he touched the ball. The Utah coaches seem to be leaning toward White as their man, but that may change once they see all three backs in real game situations, and with USC coming up next week, the idea will be to use this game to establish the rotation. For Montana State, running back Orenzo Davis is the key averaging nearly 100 yards per game last year while handling the bulk of the attack. The more positive yards Davis gets, the more Bobcats McGhee will be able to air it out and pick on the Utah secondary.
What Will Happen:
The largest crowd Montana State played in front of last year was at Washington State (26,356). Rice-Eccles Stadium will be filled to capacity of 45,000+ and should be ready to go now that the program is taking on the bigger, better attitude. Montana State will have a couple good drives, but the Utah defense will smother the Bobcats over the second half while Wynn should get off to a hot start on the way to an easy win.
CFN Prediction: Utah 45 ... Montana State 10
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