Utah wraps up a home-and-home series with San Jose State this week, and this qualifies as a game in which the opponents appear to be worlds apart on the football field.
The Utes (2-0) already look like a team that will be in the Pac-12 South mix yet again. Utah leads the Pac-12 in in rush defense (59.0 yards per game), pass efficiency defense (90.84), punt return defense (-1.00) and fewest opponent first downs (25) after two weeks.
For the Spartans, it's a much different story. San Jose State (1-2) has struggled to stop opponents and has failed to generate any consistent offense. The Spartans have already used three different quarterbacks this season. Sophomore Josh Love started the first two games before being benched in favor of redshirt freshman Montel Aaron. Sam Allen has also seen mop-up duty in the fourth quarter against both Cal Poly and Texas.
Utah leads the all-time series with San Jose State 7-1. The Utes beat the Spartans 34-17 last season in the most recent game between the two teams.
San Jose State at Utah
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Utah -26
Three Things to Watch
1. Tyler Huntley emerging as a true dual-threat quarterback
After just two games, Huntley (above, right) is demonstrating why he's a good fit for what Utah wants from a quarterback. Huntley has a knack for extending plays and getting results. He is both an accurate passer and an elusive runner.
Huntley has totaled 527 passing yards while completing 73.5 percent of his passes. The sophomore also is Utah's leading rusher. He's totaled 159 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries. Overall, Huntley ranks third in the Pac-12 and 14th in the FBS in total offense (343.0 yards per game).
There's some concern about Huntley's workload as a runner. He accounted for 77 percent of the team's net rushing yards against BYU. Utah wants to balance things out by getting the running backs more involved. Still, Huntley relishes the chance to make plays with both his arm and his feet.
“It's always fun to just run and just know you're making an effect on the defense,” Huntley said. “It just feels great that you're doing a lot to hurt a defense.”
2. Can San Jose State's offense keep its defense off the field?
No team has put a heavier workload on its defense than San Jose State up to this point in the season. The Spartan defense has faced 259 snaps through three games, more than any other FBS team.
There have been some bright spots during that stretch. San Jose State has forced 23 punts in those three games and recovered three fumbles against FCS member Cal Poly. The Spartans have also held opponents to a pass completion rate of 50.8 percent, second in the Mountain West to only Wyoming.
Still, the sheer volume of offensive plays for opponents has taken its toll on the scoreboard. San Jose State has surrendered 98 points and 1,171 total yards in its two losses. Opponents have gashed the Spartans on the ground in particular. San Jose State has surrendered 917 rushing yards over three games, the most among FBS teams.
The Spartans have also struggled to move the ball, creating more work for the defense. They generated just 558 yards and 22 points in losses to South Florida and Texas.
3. Will Utah cut down the penalties?
One thing that prevented Utah from pulling away from BYU was a flurry of penalties. For the second consecutive week, the Utes racked up 11 penalties, amassing 97 penalty yards against the Cougars. Against FCS member North Dakota, Utah lost 135 yards on 11 penalties.
It's definitely a concerning trend. The Utes have totaled 22 penalties and 232 penalty yards through two games. They rank 128th in the FBS in total penalties and 127th in total penalty yardage.
Much of the problem, according to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, is that Utah's receivers are a bit too aggressive at times in their blocking at the expense of sound technique. That tendency is leading to a higher number of holding and pass interference penalties.
"The common theme on the penalties seems to be on the perimeter,” Whittingham said. “We are still sloppy with our hands on the outside, meaning we are getting our hands outside the frame instead of keeping them tight.”
San Jose State has lost 12 straight games to Pac-12 opponents since it beat Stanford 35-34 in 2006. That long losing streak isn't likely to end for the Spartans on Saturday. Utah has always been tough to handle on defense. Now the Utes also have an offense, led by a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, capable of shredding lesser opponents. If Utah can clean up the penalties, overwhelming San Jose State won't present a challenge.
Prediction: Utah 49, San Jose State 10
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Tyler Huntley photo courtesy of Utah Athletics/Kory Mortensen)