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Utah Utes vs. San Jose State Spartans Preview and Prediction

Troy McCormick

Troy McCormick

It's rare for any football team to commit six turnovers and still find a way to win a game. Utah pulled off such a feat in last Saturday’s 20-19 victory over BYU.

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The Utes (2-0) coughed up three fumbles and junior quarterback Troy Williams threw three interceptions. Still, Utah allowed the Cougars to score just 13 points off those miscues. Kyle Whittingham’s team to 19-1 in non-conference play since joining the Pac-12 after defensive end Hunter Dimick stopped BYU quarterback Taysom Hill on a 2-point conversion run with 18 seconds left.

San Jose State (1-1) looks to join San Diego State and Boise State as the latest Mountain West Conference team to upset a Pac-12 team at home. The Spartans have not beaten a Pac-12 opponent since edging Stanford 35-34 in San Jose in 2006.

Utah has dominated the series between the two teams. The Utes are 6-1 all-time versus San Jose State and have won three straight over the Spartans since suffering a 24-6 loss in 1974.

Utah at San Jose State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 10:30 p.m. ET (8:30 p.m. MT)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Utah -12.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Battle in the Backfield
Utah could have a new starting running back when it faces San Jose State. True freshman Zack Moss moved atop the depth chart heading into this week's practices after turning out a strong performance against BYU. Junior Troy McCormick is listed as the backup to Moss.

Joe Williams, who started in Utah's first two games, retired from football for medical reasons on Tuesday. Williams rushed for 75 total yards and averaged 3.4 yards per carry against Southern Utah and BYU. The senior also struggled with ball security in both games.

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Moss has a good shot to fill that new void in the backfield after rushing for 58 yards on 12 carries in his collegiate debut. He churned out 41 yards on a 19-play, fourth quarter drive that helped Utah burn 11:21 off the clock and score what proved to be a game-winning 29 yard field goal from Andy Phillips.

“Zack came in and gave us a spark,” Whittingham said. “That was very evident when he came in and ran the ball. He deserves to at least get the opportunity to vie for that starting job this week.”

2. Offensive Breakout
San Jose State enjoyed one of its finest all-around offensive performances in school history in a 66-35 victory over Portland State last weekend.

The Spartans scored their most points in a game since beating Rice 70-63 in 2004 and it is the fifth highest total in school history. San Jose State totaled 642 yards on offense — the 11th-highest single-game total in school history — and had five offensive plays of 30 or more yards.

Much of the damage came on the ground. The Spartans churned out 409 rushing yards. Deontae Cooper led the way with 126 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Redshirt freshman Zamore Zigler added 111 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. A third back, Malik Roberson, finished with 92 yards and a score on eight carries.

Getting similar production versus Utah will be tough. The Utes are 11th nationally in scoring defense (9.5 ppg) and 17th in total defense (243.0 ypg).

3. Rivalry Hangover
Since it beginning its six-game winning streak over BYU in 2010, Utah has struggled to keep the momentum going after a victory over the Cougars. The Utes are 0-4 in the games following a regular-season win in the Holy War in that span, losing in 2010 to Boise State, ‘11 to Washington, ‘12 to Arizona State and ‘13 to UCLA.

In those four post-rivalry game losses, Utah has averaged just 12.8 points while allowing 32 points per contest. It's a trend the Utes hope to finally bring to an end this weekend in San Jose.

“The bottom line is when we've played the rivalry game early in the season... it had a negative impact on the next game,” Whittingham said. “That's our challenge this week is not to let that happen. That's a point of emphasis this week.”

Final Analysis

Utah has been as strong as expected on defense so far this season and the Utes are on the cusp of breaking out offensively if they can take better care of the ball. Facing San Jose State offers a prime opportunity to do it. The Spartans have lost 10 straight games against Pac-12 opponents and Utah should have little trouble adding to that streak.

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Prediction: Utah 42, San Jose State 13

— 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.