Stanford, Calif. (NWN) — After taking control of the Pac-12 South title race a week ago, Utah knows a short let-up can reshape the competition.
The Utes could take a big step toward a place in the Pac-12 title match next month with a win Friday night at Stanford in Las Vegas.
While the Cardinals (3-5, 2-4) have been mired in another disappointing season, they have shined this year that caught the attention of Utah (5-3, 4-1).
“The only thing going for us this week is trying to find a way to beat Stanford,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We don’t care where we sit in the standings and we certainly don’t focus on it. We know they are a good football team, they beat USC, Oregon, and they are a team that can play really good football. That’s really the nature of the Pac-12. … this convention is such that you have to do your best every week or you are going to lose. “
Utes is a perfect example of this. They beat Arizona State three weeks earlier to take the lead in the division, only to lose to Oregon State the following week.
Utah then beat UCLA last week and took a one-game lead over the Sun Devils, losing to Washington State. With two of their final three games being against Arizona and Colorado, the lower residents of the Utes, a win on Friday night would go a long way toward locking down the division.
The Cardinals have also gone up-and-down, putting their bowl hopes in jeopardy, after troubling Oregon with three straight defeats to Arizona State, Washington State and Washington.
Coach David Shaw said, ‘We have to make some changes. “We have to push certain things to happen, but more than anything it’s really just a mindset. It’s a game-ending mentality. There are no magic tricks, no magic games, one man. There is nothing to sell and start another man. It’s a collective effort.”
run for daylight
Tvian Thomas is coming up with the best game of his career running back Utes. He had a season-high 24 carries for a career-best 160 yards, and a school record—four touchdowns against UCLA. It was the first four-TD game for Utah since Joe Williams in 2016.
Stanford star could be without quarterback Tanner Mackie, who is listed as a suspect with an undisclosed injury. Mackie has undergone a major upgrade since taking over as starter in Week 2, throwing 14 TD passes and just five interceptions. Shaw said he would wait until the last possible minute until Mackie was given the green signal.
“At 7:29, if someone says, ‘Hey, Tanner’s up,’ he’s up. With your top players, that’s what you do,” Shaw said. “I don’t expect it to be like that. We’ll be wiser.”
If Mackie isn’t available, Stanford will use both Week 1 starter Jack West and the more athletic Isaiah Sanders.
In other injury news, the Cardinals are hoping to get back receiver Michael Wilson for the first time this season but could be without leading receiver Elijah Higgins.
Higgins, who has 37 catches for 449 yards and four TDs, is listed as a suspect.
Wilson has 91 career catches for 1,067 yards and seven TDs in 26 games.
Shaw is not a fan of games played in the short week, even though Stanford has the advantage of staying at home instead of traveling like the Utes.
“I wouldn’t call it an advantage,” Shaw said of being at home. “I would call it less of a loss. I think both teams are at a loss. Over the years I have hated these Friday games. I absolutely hate them. I don’t think they are fair to the coaches . I don’t think they’re particularly fair to student-athletes. You just don’t have enough time for your body to recover.”
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