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Dick Harmon: Here's what the Utes need to do to beat SDSU

Published: Friday, Nov. 19 2010 10:48 p.m. MST

Today will define seasons for BYU and Utah.

Say, what?

Today is a huge day for the Utes and Cougars in myriad ways.

A BYU team that was once 1-4 can become bowl eligible at 6-5 by beating New Mexico in Provo. The 8-2 Utes can end a two-game losing streak and emit positive vibes throughout their squad, fan base and to bowl representatives who look close at season-ending trends.

The Utes and Cougars should win today. BYU has the easier task against 1-9 New Mexico. Las Vegas odds?makers favor Utah by 21/2 points over San Diego State.

If SDSU and BYU win, the Cougars will be tied with the Aztecs and Utes for second place in the MWC with 5-2 records as the Cougars and Utes head into their rivalry game at Rice-Eccles for the final time as league brothers.

Defining day?

Yes, if BYU wins. For Utah, yes, but only if the Utes lose a third straight game.

The Utes should take BYU's blueprint for defeating the Aztecs: Keep Aztec QB Ryan Lindley, RB Ronney Hillman and receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarcus Sampson off the field. You do that by running the ball like Utah did against Air Force.

Brown and Sampson are ranked No. 1 and 2 in the MWC in receiving, respectively. Last week, they rocketed the Aztecs back into the game at the end of the TCU contest before losing to the Frogs 40-35. Nobody's scored like that on Gary Patterson's defense this year.

Hillman is the No. 1 rusher in the MWC and ranks 12th nationally. He's got breakaway speed and is capable of making Ute linebackers and safeties bite on play-action plays that end up in bombs.

How potent is San Diego State? In those 15 minutes BYU allowed SDSU to have the ball in Provo, the Aztecs scored 21 points, passed for 220 yards, and Hillman had 62 yards rushing in a 24-21 loss.

Utah has the backs to pound the ball at SDSU and try and play keepaway from Lindley and Company. They have to. Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide have to take over this game and enable Jordan Wynn to have an easy go, just like Cougar freshman Jake Heaps didn't have to make a ton of plays in BYU's win over the Aztecs back on Oct. 9.

BYU's win over the Aztecs did have its unique factors — some things Utah may not enjoy.

First, BYU had the home-field advantage.

Second, the Cougars had just come off a devastating loss to Utah State in Logan and any Aztec player who watched the film would have a tough time respecting the Cougars.

Third, on Oct. 9, SDSU was coming off a bye week and may have been out of sync.

Fourth, the Aztecs simply have never done Provo very well, and that week marked Bronco Mendenhall's return as the Cougars' defensive coordinator. He did find his team's soul.

Fifth, if you want to go there — as Aztec boosters have — a replay-booth mistake played a key role in the San Diego State loss.

The Utes will find out, like BYU did, this isn't the same Aztec team as in years past. Brady Hoke and his defensive coordinator, Rocky Long, have made the Aztecs' players tougher. They play harder longer, and that hasn't been the case on Montezuma Mesa for decades.

Long's 3-3-5 scheme presents a ton of mental challenges for Utah's blockers protecting Wynn. Long has a blitz-crazy system, and Utah must run the ball to avoid exposing Wynn to hits or poor judgment throws.

This will be a great strategy game to watch because technique and adjustments will be everything for Utah's coaching staff. Utah has to start quick and establish momentum and avoid playing from behind like it did in its two back-to-back losses

This week's predictions:

COLORADO STATE 21, WYOMING 17: The Cowboys are the only team New Mexico has defeated, and they have given signs that they've packed it in. CSU looked horrible at home against BYU last Saturday, but their QB is the difference.

UTAH STATE 21, IDAHO 17: The Aggies have a great shot to add a victory at home and should take care of business. A pair of 4-6 teams, the Aggies are 3-2 in defending their home turf while Idaho is 1-4 on the road.

UTAH 34, SAN DIEGO STATE 31: If you tell me how many turnovers Utah will have, this pick becomes more definitive. Ranked 98th in turnover margin, Ute mistakes in the give-away game will determine this game. I'm guessing Aaron Roderick's offense and Ute special teams have had their share versus TCU and Notre Dame and fix the issue. Those were two Ute losses I picked as wins.

BYU 42, NEW MEXICO 10: The Cougars have scored 38 and 35 points in the first half in wins over UNLV and CSU. BYU hasn't had this kind of back-to-back game firepower since Brandon Doman and Luke Staley raced to 12-0 in 2001.

Last week's record: 4-2 (.823); overall season record: 56-12.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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