Pac-12 affair pits Utes against Cardinal

Stanford, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two teams coming off of losses to Oregon will go head-to-head on Saturday, as the 25th-ranked Utah Utes challenge the Stanford Cardinal in Pac-12 Conference action at Stanford Stadium.

The Cardinal had a week off to recuperate from a 45-16 blowout loss to Oregon on Nov. 1. The setback was the third in five games for Stanford, but it was easily the worst of the campaign. The Cardinal now own a record of 5-4 overall, while clinging to a 3-3 split of their Pac-12 duels. They are still an impressive 4-1 at home, with a 13-10 loss to USC in the second game of the season being the only blemish.

"The bottom line for us is we played one of the best teams in the nation tonight. We fought them as hard as we could," Stanford coach David Shaw said of the loss to the Ducks, while laying out his plans for the rest of the season. "The goal is to finish strong and see where that puts us."

Utah was a more recent victim of the Ducks, as it was routed, 51-27, by Oregon last weekend in Salt Lake City. The loss was the second straight for the Utes, as it came on the heels of a 19-16 overtime setback against Arizona State. The Utes have managed to hang on to a Top-25 ranking, but they are 6-3 overall and also 3-3 in conference.

Last season, Utah stunned then No. 5 Stanford, 27-21. The win evened the all- time series at three wins apiece. This contest will be the first the Utes have played at Stanford since 1996. Utah won that contest as well, claiming a 17-10 decision.

An already sluggish Utah offense was slowed even more by Oregon, as leading receiver Dres Anderson was lost for the season with a knee injury prior to the contest.

However, even with Anderson out of commission, the Utes managed to rack up 440 yards of total offense, far above their season average (380.8 ypg), which ranks next-to-last in the Pac-12. It was the first time since the second game of the season they reached the 400-yard mark.

Travis Wilson may not have had his favorite target to work with, but he still showed no fear in throwing the ball against Oregon, finishing with 297 yards and two scores on 18-of-28 passing. However, he hurt himself with two interceptions.

"I thought [Wilson] came in and battled. He nearly threw for 300 yards and he responded well tonight," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He had a couple of picks and those are mistakes we need to correct."

On the plus side, those two interceptions were the first of the season for Wilson. However, he has only thrown for 1,381 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine games, while completing 57.5 percent of his pass attempts.

Kaelin Clay appears to be the heir apparent to the No. 1 receiver role left by Anderson. Clay racked up a game-high 152 yards on five receptions in the loss to Oregon. He leads all active Utah receivers with 302 yards this season, doing so on 23 receptions. Kenneth Scott (29 receptions, 280 yards, three TDs) may top the roster in receptions, but he is averaging only 9.7 yards per catch.

Everyone knows that Devontae Booker can dominate on the ground. The Utah running back is third in the Pac-12 in rushing yards (1,055), and he also has eight rushing touchdowns to his credit. Booker showed off more versatility against Oregon, finishing with 110 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions. He had only 101 yards receiving in the first eight games.

Utah can hold its own on defense, surrendering only 398.9 yards per game. Creating pressure is the key, as the Utes lead the country in sacks (43), while ranking third in tackles for loss (79). Nate Orchard leads the way for the unit, with 13 sacks. the second-most in the country.

Stanford has not been much better on the offensive side of the ball, as the team is ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total yards (387.8 ypg), and dead last in scoring (24.7 ppg). The Cardinal's red-zone struggles are well documented, with the team scoring on a league-worst 64.9 percent of their visits.

Kevin Hogan did most of the work for Stanford in the loss to Oregon, as he threw for 237 yards and an interception on 21-of-29 passing, and he also led the team with 42 rushing yards. Hogan has been a capable signal caller this season, but he has not taken the step to the next level that was expected. In all, he has 2,051 yards and 13 touchdowns, compared to seven interceptions, doing so on 63.9 percent efficiency.

Ty Montgomery may have led Stanford in receptions against Oregon, but his seven grabs translated to only 35 yards. Montgomery is easily the top target for Hogan, with team-highs in receptions (56), receiving yards (549) while tying for touchdown grabs (three). Devon Cajuste (25 receptions, 409 yards, three TDs) has as many touchdown catches as Montgomery and is coming off a 116-yard effort against Oregon.

Remound Wright (359 yards, two TDs), Barry Sanders (292 yards) and Kelsey Young (240 yards) are the leading rushers for the unit, which normally features a workhorse back, but has not found one this season.

It may not be leading to as many wins as usually, but Stanford has maintained its standing as the best defensive team in the Pac-12. The Cardinal easily lead the league and rank fifth nationally in yards allowed (281.1 ypg). The next-best team in the Pac-12 is Oregon State, which is letting up 384.7 ypg.