SALT LAKE CITY — It isn't hard to be impressed with TCU's football team. The defending Mountain West Conference champions bring a cache of impressive credentials into Saturday's showdown with Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Besides being 9-0 and ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series standings, the Horned Frogs lead the nation in scoring defense (allowing 8.7 points per game), passing defense (119 ypg) and total defense (217.3 ypg). Their offense is among the elite as well, ranking ninth in rushing (270.9 ypg) and scoring (40.8 ppg).
"TCU is a great football team. There's no question about it. All you've got to do is watch the tape and it's very easy to determine that," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "They've got no weaknesses, and we've got our work cut out for us."
The Horned Frogs have outscored conference opponents by a combined 189-16 margin this season and have punted the ball just once over the past two games.
"They've got a lot of good athletes on the offensive side of the ball. They've got a great quarterback, a good athletic running back and definitely some speed on the outside," said Utah linebacker Chaz Walker. "We've just got to do our job each and every play and make the plays when they come our way."
Senior quarterback Andy Dalton leads the TCU offense. He's a proven winner with 38 career victories, tops in the nation among active quarterbacks.
"I've seen steady improvement in him for the last four years," Whittingham said. "From where he's come as a freshman to right now, he's improved a great deal and he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country."
The senior enters Saturday's game on a roll. He's thrown a touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games.
Dalton has completed 143-of-217 passes this season for 1,887 yards and 16 touchdowns. The dual threat is third on the team in rushing, netting 404 yards and averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
"He's perfect for what they do offensively," Whittingham said. "He's got the ability to beat you with his legs and with his arm."
In TCU's 55-28 win over Utah last season, Dalton passed for 207 yards and ran for 48 more.
The latter, Whittingham noted, is something the Utes have to be concerned about on every play. TCU's effective quarterback run game requires additional responsibilities for the defense.
And there's other big challenges. Tailback Ed Wesley averages 104.2 yards per game, and wide receiver Jeremy Kerley has speed and athleticism. The versatile senior, who is also an accomplished return specialist, leads the MWC in all-purpose yardage (134.4 ypg).
Up front, Whittingham said TCU's offensive line is very good and well-coached.
The Horned Frogs, he added, are as good or better overall than they were a year ago.
"Looking at the stats, they are in the top 10 or 15 in the nation in nearly every major category in all three phases of the game," Whittingham said. "I'd have to say defense is probably their strongest suit. They are ranked No. 1 in what I believe are the three main defensive categories — total defense, scoring defense and third-down defense. That speaks volumes about what they are doing defensively."
The cast of contributors includes defensive end Wayne Daniels and linebacker Tanner Brock, who lead the team in sacks and tackles, respectively. Linebacker Tank Carder and defensive backs Alex Ibiloye, Tejay Johnson and Collin Jones are among several other players of note.
"They're fast. They're quick. All 11 guys are pretty athletic guys," said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn. "Even their big guys are athletic. They fly around. They're just solid athletically across the board."
No. 4 TCU (9-0, 5-0 MWC) at No. 6 Utah (8-0, 5-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV: CBS C Radio: 700 AM