This week is historic. Not only have we elected the first black president, but for the first time in history, two top-12 teams will meet on the turf at Rice-Eccels Stadium. Let’s hope the outcome will be as satisfying as the one Tuesday.
There have been a lot of big games played at Rice-Eccles. I was a boy in 1994 when the ranked BYU Cougars came into the old stadium and lost 34-31. It was the first time Utah achieved consecutive wins against BYU since 1972.
I was there in 2004 when Urban Meyer led the team to perfection, and I sat shocked on the cold bleachers in 2006 when John Beck’s prayer was answered after running around like a chicken for 11 seconds.
The game today is the biggest game in Rice-Eccles history, and the Cougars have nothing to do with it.
Books will be written tonight. Kyle Whittingham will either go on the shelf with the McBride volumes, or he will lie behind glass with the greatness of Urban Meyer’s short tenure. The Blackout Game will be either a prelude to a day of mourning or the sun will rise high over the Wasatch Mountains.
Even if there is some sort of slide after this game, it will essentially lock up a share of the Mountain West crown. The pressure is unbearable for the fans. I can’t imagine the sheer weight on the team. The Utes’ worthiness has been questioned all season long. TCU means validation. TCU is a game that will start the bandwagon rolling.
It won’t be easy. For those out there who check the Las Vegas lines, the gamblers have put their bellies to the table and anted up on TCU. The Horned Frogs’ defense is stellar-second in the country behind perennial contender USC. Their “D” has also put a curtain over how good the offense is, currently 29th in the country.
The Utes are close, though. Utah is 7th in defense and 32nd in offense. While TCU continues to get national hype for its stout defense, Utah only gives up 0.56 average yards more per play. Offensively, the teams are at a standstill. TCU averages only 3 more yards a game than the Utes.
So, what’s the difference? Both are teams that rely heavily on the power of their defenses. Both teams sit in the doldrums of the NCAA in penalty yards per game. What about rushing yards? TCU averages 4.48 a carry, Utah averages 4.44. The difference between these two teams is a matter of decimals.
It’s as if the Utes will be playing themselves – an equally hungry, albeit purple version of themselves.
The difference, then, is the surroundings. TCU will leave the comfort of Fort Worth where they derailed BYU’s BCS dreams and come to the Wasatch Mountains where dreams still live. The Horned Frogs will have to face 22 men who will never let the importance of the game out of their minds. TCU will hear the wild screams of the MUSS, and the alumni who will come to witness history. They will watch 35,000 black towels waving in unison, willing the team to victory. The bowl committees are going to get a show.
The Blackout Game is tonight. It’s going to be a dark day for TCU.
Nick Pappas is a sports columnist for the Daily Utah Chronicle.