Dick Harmon: Expect Utes to handle Falcons

Published: Saturday, Oct. 30 2010 1:00 a.m. MDT

Finally, we get to a game in the Mountain West Conference that tickles a bit.

Utah at Air Force: A top-10 Ute team against an Air Force squad that has been ranked in the top 25.

A good candy game.

It's a matchup where historically the two teams have had to grind it out to the end with the Utes winning the lion's share, but not without some hand wringing.

Utah will win this one because Kyle Whittingham has the better team with superior athletes in a phase of the season where everything seems to be running on all cylinders. The Utes simply have far too much firepower.

The game captures interest because this is the best opponent Utah has faced so far this season. In all due respect to Pitt, the Falcons are a far more dangerous team, and clearly better than San Jose State, New Mexico, Colorado State and the others who are a combined 14-39.

Troy Calhoun already set down his platitudes this week when he called this the best Utah football team ever. Of course, when the Falcons played BYU, he said freshman quarterback Jake Heaps might be the best quarterback to ever play at BYU someday.

Calhoun may be right on both counts, too early to tell. But he does like to spread on the jelly before kickoff and in reference to Utah, he's not far off, the Utes are looking that way.

It is interesting how AFA generally really tests Utah, negating some strengths with the triple option, discipline, tough play and opportunistic breaks.

"It's been back and forth," said Whittingham. "Last year was a great example of that, playing in overtime. Most every year it goes down to the wire. A lot of that is attributed to the toughness of an Air Force team that never quits, ever. They always hang in there and give the full 60."

The only way the Falcons will win this game is to gain turnovers, control the clock, shorten the game and make it into a final drive kind of contest.

In that regard, turnover margin might be the only chink in Utah's game. The Utes give away far more than they get and are ranked 97th in the nation in turnover margin.

But, on the other hand, the way Utah scores, turnover issues have only been a speed bump. Again, however, AFA is no UNLV.

The Falcons will sorely miss Park City's do-everything fullback Jared Tew, out with a leg injury. Tew is not only the toughest Falcon on offense, but is the emotional heart and soul of that side of the line.

Still, the Falcons can run the ball. That clashes with Utah's defense, which limited Colorado State to 28 rushing yards. It is the fifth game this season in which Utah has held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing, including Wyoming (67), New Mexico (69), Pittsburgh (82) and San Jose State (94).

We'll see how that goes with the Falcons, ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing (326.50 ypg).

This week's predictions:

SAN DIEGO STATE 24, WYOMING 10: The Aztecs are sniffing a bowl game, likely at home, and if the Beach Boys don't come down with a case of the cold sinews in Laramie, they should handle the Cowboys.

COLORADO STATE 21, NEW MEXICO 10: The Rams are improving, although you couldn't tell that by the shellacking they took at Utah last week. The Lobos simply don't have an engine.

TCU 48, UNLV 7: Gary Patterson is feeling it now. The biggest challenge in Las Vegas will be to make sure his players don't stay up late or wander where they shouldn't be. Come kickoff, it'll be Halloween the day after for the Rebels.

UTAH 38, AIR FORCE 21: Look for the Utes to make hay in special teams and run the ball effectively against the Falcons, who were better a month ago than today.

NEVADA 42, UTAH STATE 9: Since knocking off BYU in Logan, the Aggies have lost two games by a combined score of 69-13. Guess that gust has blown.

Last week: 5-0. Overall: 45-8 (.849 )

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company