Utah and Stanford are moving in opposite directions going into their Friday night Pac-12 clash.
The Utes (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) are in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. Utah is in a favorable position to win a third divisional title in four seasons because of a resurgence on offense. In their 44-24 victory over UCLA, the Utes piled up 469 total yards and 27 first downs. Utah is averaging 35.8 points against Pac-12 opponents and has scored 24 touchdowns in league games. Offensively, the Utes have averaged 466.3 yards per game over their last four contests.
Little room for error remains for the Cardinal (3-5, 2-4) if they hope to salvage a tough season and reach a bowl game. Stanford lost its third straight game and sank into the Pac-12 North cellar after falling 20-13 to Washington. The Cardinal held the Huskies without a touchdown until the final minute, but their inability to finish earlier drives came back to bite them. Stanford drove inside the Washington 30 four times and scored a just single touchdown.
Utah leads the series 5-4. The Utes have never lost to Stanford in a true road game, going 4-0 all-time against the Cardinal in Stanford Stadium.
Utah at Stanford
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah -7
When Utah Has the Ball
The transformation on offense for Utah with Cameron Rising at the controls has been impressive. Utah is moving the ball at will against Pac-12 opponents and taking the pressure off a young defense that's struggled with injuries.
Rising is the catalyst behind it all. The redshirt sophomore quarterback can do a little bit of everything, ranking fourth in Pac-12 play with 278.0 yards of total offense per game. Against UCLA, Rising threw for 179 yards and a touchdown while completing 63 percent of his passes. He also ran for 63 yards and a score on six carries. Rising even punted a couple of times against the Bruins and pinned the ball inside the 10 on both occasions.
Utah's offensive success also owes a lot to improved play along the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is blocking better, and sophomore Tavion Thomas is taking full advantage. Thomas has entrenched himself as the Utes' lead back after rushing for a career-best 160 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries against UCLA. That performance earned him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. He is averaging 107.8 rushing yards per game over his last four games and has scored eight touchdowns in that span.
When Stanford Has the Ball
The Cardinal could be in dire straits on offense. Starting quarterback Tanner McKee is questionable for Friday with an undisclosed injury. If McKee can't play, his absence will take away Stanford's best weapon on offense.
McKee has flourished at times while directing the offense. He's thrown for 1,916 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. McKee had six consecutive 200-yard games until finishing with only 194 yards and a pair of interceptions against Washington. His poise in the pocket and efficient passing made a difference in big wins over Oregon and USC earlier in the season.
Jack West and Isaiah Sanders could end up splitting reps in McKee's absence. West was named the starter for the season opener against Kansas State. He threw for 76 yards on 8-of-12 passing but also tossed a pair of interceptions and was quickly replaced by McKee. Sanders started six games as an option quarterback at Air Force before transferring to Stanford. He's been used occasionally in Wildcat packages and would give the Cardinal offense more of a running element. Still, Sanders has rushed for just 13 yards on seven carries this season.
A road game on a Friday night always seems to be a perfect environment for upsets in the Pac-12. That won't be the case here. Stanford's offense is one-dimensional. Utah, on the other hand, can attack on the ground and through the air with equal effectiveness. No Pac-12 opponent has been able to slow the Utes down on offense and the Cardinal don't have what it takes to force a shootout.
Prediction: Utah 31, Stanford 17
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.