Sometimes it’s the wounded dog that’s the most dangerous.
And the Utah football team, having lost four straight games coming into this week’s Mountain West showdown with CSU, is certainly wounded. Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City will decide whether the Utes (2-4, 0-2 MWC) could be dangerous to the Rams (5-2, 1-0 MWC).
CSU is coming off a narrow defeat of the Wyoming Cowboys last weekend, and the question continues to be whether the Rams can put an opponent away. The eight-point defeat of Wyoming was the largest margin of victory for CSU this season.
The Rams continue to find a way to win, getting points and defensive stops when they need them most. They are coming off the second-largest offensive output of the season with 501 yards of total offense against the Cowboys.
“We’ve got a big game this week, Utah’s a good football team,” head coach Sonny Lubick said. “They’ve had their woes as of late. But when you come back and look at it, all it takes is one little thing and then they lose three games by two or three points.”
After starting the season 2-0 with wins over Utah State and Indiana, Utah dropped three straight games to the likes of Arizona, Michigan and Air Force by a combined score of only 13 points. Last week’s 36-17 loss to San Diego State saw the Utes give up the most points they had all season, and forced head coach Ron McBride to bench starting quarterback Lance Rice in favor of sophomore Brett Elliott.
Elliot threw for 272 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions against San Diego State.
“He executed our hurry-up offense really well and showed what kind of competitor he is by not letting things that went wrong bother him,” McBride said.
Despite his team’s recent losing streak, McBride said his team has played hard. He realized they face a tough challenge in CSU.
“We have to stay positive and take it step by step. We can’t panic,” McBride said. “The big thing is to keep the players believing in what we’re doing. The tougher it gets, the better coach you have to be. Colorado State is a very good football team. Their quarterback knows how to win and CSU knows how to play in the fourth quarter.”
In the last year’s meeting between the two teams, the Rams handed the Utes their first conference loss, 19-17. Although it had more total offense, Utah missed several scoring opportunities including a blocked field goal, a dropped touchdown pass and fumble on the goal line.
This year, the Rams face a team that is in dire need of a win.
“I don’t know where they’re at mentally right now, but we know they’re a physical team and they’re going to come out and give it their all,” cornerback Rhett Nelson said. “It’s really going to be a big game for them. I think they think we’re on our heels right now, and this is their chance to turn their season around. I really think they’re going to be well-prepared for this game.”
The Rams’ second-leading receiver, Joey Cuppari, was also wary of catching the Utes with their backs against the wall.
“They’re going to be upset. I’d be upset if we lost four in a row,” Cuppari
said. “They’re going to come out and they’re going to give us everything they got. And we just got to be able to take it and not make those mistakes that you can make when you’re on the road. We just got to play within ourselves and take what they give us and just play Ram football.”
-Edited by Jon Ackerman and Becky Waddingham