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November 6, 2008No. 8 Utah (9-0, 5-0 MWC) hosts No. 12 TCU in a Thursday night clash of potential BCS Busters. The winner will control their own destiny in the race to play in a BCS bowl game and earn the millions of dollars that goes with it while the loser will not only be out of that race, but will be relegated to a minor bowl played well before the New Year.
Thursday night will feature a high stakes game between two solid, evenly matched football teams that are remarkably similar. Both teams emphasize running the ball and stopping the run, both are very aggressive on defense and both have great speed.
With a game featuring two of the stingiest defenses in the country, the game could be decided by special teams, where the Utes have a decided advantage. Ben Vroman continues to lead the nation in touchbacks on kickoffs by a large margin, whereas TCU barely registers with less than a touchback per game. Even when Vroman's kicks are returned, teams are starting about the 21 yard line. TCU's opponents are starting drives about the 30 yard line. Nine yards may not sound like much, but in a game of field position it means a great deal. Vroman's kicks neutralize one of TCU's main threats, as they are 2nd nationally in kick returns. Utah's return man David Reed, on the other hand, has shown he is a threat to score on kickoff returns.
Louie Sakoda gets the edge no matter what he does: place-kicking or punting. TCU has missed five PAT's and has had two kicks blocked. Punting has been inconsistent for TCU as they are only netting 33 yards per punt. Aiona Key has been a dynamic game-changer on special teams, blocking two punts and a field goal while TCU has only blocked one kick ? a punt ? on the season.
The great equalizer to Utah's special teams play is TCU's ability to force turnovers. The Horned Frogs lead the nation in turnover margin and have forced 26 turnovers while Utah has been a very generous offense, turning the ball over 16 times. While the Utes have cut down on the number of turnovers lately, they still have issues at times with ball security. If Utah's offensive line and backs can keep the pass rush from getting to Brian Johnson, that will go a long way to cutting down opportunities for TCU to force turnovers.
The biggest factor in the game might be the weather. The forecast calls for frigid temperatures and wind chills that could push the mercury down into the teens or low twenties. Temperature for kickoff should be in the mid-upper 30's, dropping near freezing by the time the game ends. With winds near approaching 10 miles per hour or even higher, the cold and wind could have a significant impact on the game. A cold football is harder to throw, harder to hold on to, and much harder to get distance on kicks. How well the teams cope with the elements will be a factor to watch, especially with most of TCU's players coming from the warmer parts of Texas.
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