The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off their first loss of the season, the 15th-ranked Utah Utes get back to action this weekend against Notre Dame in non-conference action.
Utah began the season with eight consecutive victories, six of which came by double figures. If the team was able to knock off fellow unbeaten TCU last weekend, a berth in the national title game would have remained a possibility. Unfortunately, the Utes will not be BCS bound in January, as they were crushed by the Horned Frogs, 47-7, in front of a shocked home crowd.
"TCU thoroughly outplayed us today and it was not even close," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "The score was not indicative of how lopsided this game was. They were better at every phase of the game and credit goes to their team."
Brian Kelly was brought in to change the fortunes of the Notre Dame program, but his first year as head coach has yielded more of the same for fans of the Fighting Irish. The club is a disappointing 4-5 and will need to finish strong just to become bowl eligible. The last two outings have resulted in losses to Navy and Tulsa, proof of how bad things have gotten in South Bend.
"The most important thing still is for us to get to six wins," said coach Kelly. "We got to win two out of three now. That's our number one goal, to win two out of three games minimally to get to six wins."
This game marks the first-ever meeting between Utah and Notre Dame on the gridiron.
Despite the effort last weekend, Utah is still averaging 41.0 ppg and 421.8 total ypg, impressive numbers for an offense that has gotten the job done with both the run and the pass this year. The ground attack accounts for 175.9 ypg at a clip of 5.2 ypc, and 23 of the 44 offensive touchdowns scored by the Utes have been of the rushing variety. Eddie Wide leads the way with nine rushing scores, and his 523 yards are tops as well. Jordan Wynn has taken the majority of the snaps for Utah, and he has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,579 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Sure, Utah was victimized for 47 points last weekend by TCU, but that effort was not indicative of the play of the club's defense for much of this season. The Utes are only allowing 17.8 ppg and 300.0 total ypg, impressive numbers by any standards. They are particularly tough against the run, limiting foes to 110.0 ypg at a clip of 3.1 yards per carry. Utah has recorded 23 sacks, a solid total, but the club has forced a modest number of turnovers (14). Chaz Walker has 79 total tackles to his credit, including six TFLs, and Lamar Chapman has posted 5.5 sacks.
The numbers from last week's game are downright absurd. Utah finished with 199 total yards and turned the ball over four times. Meanwhile, TCU was able to rack up 558 yards while committing just one giveaway. The Utes did a solid job against the run, but they permitted 22-of-27 passes to be completed for 381 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Wynn struggled mightily under center, completing only 16-of-35 passes for 148 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The signal caller also lost a fumble.
"I had three turnovers and that can't happen against such a good team," said a disappointed Wynn after the game.
Notre Dame has been a mediocre offensive team for much of this season, and things are about to get much worse. It is difficult to see the Fighting Irish maintain their 26.0 ppg and 402.0 total ypg without starting quarterback Dayne Crist, who is out for the season with a leg injury, and starting tailback Armando Allen, who is out indefinitely with an injured hip. Second-leading receiver Theo Riddick remains sidelined as well.
Crist completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions through nine games. He now gives way to Tommy Rees, the team's backup, who tossed an interception at the end of the Tulsa game that crushed the team's chances for victory. Rees' best move would be to throw the ball to wideout Michael Floyd as much as possible. Floyd has 55 catches for 728 yards and eight scores.
"We have to keep fighting, making the corrections when we watch the film," said Floyd after the Tulsa loss. "We have to make sure we're not making those mistakes next time.
Notre Dame entered that game against the Golden Hurricane allowing 24.9 ppg and 393.1 total ypg. and the defense played quite well, surrendering just one touchdown to the Tulsa offense. Unfortunately, the Golden Hurricane scored on an interception return and a punt return. Toss in a blocked PAT return and it isn't hard to figure out why Notre Dame lost.
Rees threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa, but his three interceptions proved costly.