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Utah Utes vs. Fresno State Bulldogs Preview and Prediction

Author:
Devontae Booker

Devontae Booker

Several offensive questions face no. 21 Utah heading into its final non-conference game this weekend. The Utes moved the ball well enough in home victories over Utah State and Michigan, but left plenty of room for improvement. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made it clear he wants to see more production from outside wide receivers and better run blocking from the offensive line heading into Pac-12 play.

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Facing former WAC rival Fresno State couldn't come at a better time. The Bulldogs struggled with a porous defense a year ago and appear to be repeating that story in 2015 after getting blown out by Ole Miss last week. That isn't good news for Fresno State since the same Utah team it is hosting on Saturday crushed the Bulldogs a year ago.

Utah holds a 6-4 lead in the all-time series with Fresno State. The Utes are 0-3 in three previous trips to Bulldog Stadium —the last loss coming in 1997. Utah has won three straight games in the series since that time, including a 59-27 rout in Salt Lake City last season.

Utah at Fresno State

Kickoff: 10:30 pm ET (Saturday)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Utah -14

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Three Things to Watch

1. Keeping up with Covey

Two games into his college football career, Britain Covey has quickly emerged as one of Utah's biggest playmaking threats in the passing game. Covey led all Ute receivers in total yardage against both Michigan and Utah State. The true freshman tallied 58 yards on five catches against the Wolverines and had 61 yards on six receptions against the Aggies. Covey's speed, elusiveness and toughness have come in handy in helping Utah move the chains against tough defenses.

2 Can Fresno State's defense bounce back?

Defense has not been a strong point for the Bulldogs going back to last season. Fresno State allowed 42 points per game in eight losses during the 2014 season. It might be even worse in 2015. Ole Miss totaled 607 yards and had five scoring drives that took less than two minutes en route to a 73-21 win over the Bulldogs. The Rebels converted 9-of-14 third downs and totaled 27 first downs. This is really bad news for Fresno State considering that Utah gashed the Bulldogs for 526 yards and 26 first downs last season.

3. Booker vs Waller

Two of the nation's best running backs will get to share the same stage on Saturday night. Utah senior Devontae Booker notched his eighth career 100 yard rushing game after totaling 120 yards on 31 carries against Utah State. He finished second in the Pac-12 last season in rushing yards per game (116.3). Fresno State senior Marteze Waller ranks among the top 20 running backs nationally in total yardage this season with 245 yards. Waller has totaled 2,433 career yards, ranking 8th among all active FBS players. Utah could have the edge in this battle since the Utes have allowed just 96.5 rushing yards per game so far — ranking no. 1 among Pac-12 teams.

Final Analysis

The competitive gulf between Utah and Fresno State is wider than the Grand Canyon these days. There was a time when Power 5 conference teams feared to play at Bulldog Stadium. Those days are gone. Even with starting quarterback Travis Wilson likely out while recovering from a shoulder injury, the Utes should have no trouble moving the ball and scoring at will against Fresno State.

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Prediction: Utah 48, Fresno State 17

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.