Conference foe presents similar characteristics

Coming off a game that could have turned their season around, the Frogs have a quick turnaround against an opponent on a three-game winning streak. For the most part, it looks even heading into Thursday night’s game against Utah. Here’s a list of probable starters for Thursday night’s game between TCU and Utah.

QUARTERBACK

TCU: Andy Dalton, redshirt freshman

Utah: Brian Johnson, junior

Advantage: TCU

This just in: Dalton might be pretty good. His 344-yard, two-touchdown showing in Saturday’s comeback win at Stanford assured fans that he can engineer come-from-behind wins late in the game. He will be tested by a Ute defense giving up less than 200 passing yards a game. Johnson is as accurate a quarterback as there is in the Mountain West, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, but TCU’s pass rush might deter him from getting into a rhythm.

RUNNING BACK

TCU: Aaron Brown, junior

Utah: Darrell Mack, junior

Advantage: Even

As great as Dalton was, Brown was once again the catalyst for the TCU offense, churning out 154 total yards and two touchdowns on 26 touches. Also, enough cannot be said about how much of a difference the return of sophomore Joseph Turner (75 rushing yards and a touchdown) made to the TCU offense. Mack has rushed for at least 131 yards in each of his last three games. His bruising, physical style of running will keep TCU’s front six on their toes.

WIDE RECEIVERS and TIGHT END

TCU: Marcus Brock, Ervin Dickerson, Donald Massey, Jimmy Young, Quinton Cunigan (TE)

Utah: Derrek Richards, Brian Hernandez, Marquis Wilson, Bradon Godfrey, Dallin Rogers (TE)

Advantage: Even

The key play from Saturday’s win was without question Young’s 70-yard touchdown reception to pull the Frogs within seven points heading into the final quarter. This young man from Monroe, La., who recorded the first 100-yard receiving game since Cory Rodgers, is the playmaker the receiving core needs, and fans can only hope offensive coordinator Mike Schultz keeps calling his number. The Utah receivers are consistent, experienced and steady – three attributes that could bother the TCU secondary.

OFFENSIVE LINE

TCU: Matty Lindner, Blake Schlueter, Marshall Newhouse, Giles Montgomery, Nic Richmond

Utah: Dustin Hensel, Zane Beadles, Kyle Gunther, Robert Conley, Caleb Schlauderaff

Advantage: Even

With any good running team, it starts up front, and both these teams know how to get it done up front. Aside from the two sacks allowed against the Cardinal, the line dominated Stanford’s defensive line, allowing big days for Brown and Turner. The unit faces a defensive line with a knack for making tackles for losses. The Ute line is helping Mack and Co. average more than 140 yards a game on the ground.

DEFENSIVE LINE

TCU: Chase Ortiz, Matt Panfil, Cody Moore, Jerry Hughes

Utah: Martail Burnett, Gabe Long, Koa Misi, Paul Kruger

Advantage: Even

In a game where the defensive line as a whole could not get much going against Stanford’s offensive line, Ortiz stepped up his game when his team needed him the most. If the line gets penetration against an experienced Ute offensive line, then it could be a long day for Johnson, who lacks any real scrambling ability (1.8 yards per rush). Burnett and Misi might be the best defensive end tandem in the Mountain West, and could force Dalton into making some poor decisions.

LINEBACKERS

TCU: Jason Phillips, David Hawthorne

Utah: Malakai Mokofisi, Joe Jiannoni, Stevenson Sylvester

Advantage: TCU

In a matchup this even, this is the one of the few positions where TCU has a distinct advantage against Utah. Hawthorne and sophomore Darryl Washington had great showings against Stanford, but will have to do more against a Ute offense that does not make a lot of mistakes. Although Stevenson leads a pretty good unit, Dalton and the receivers should be able to take advantage of the mismatches in coverage.

SECONDARY

TCU: Brian Bonner, David Roach, Steven Coleman, Nick Sanders, Rafael Priest

Utah: Steve Tate, Robert Johnson, Brice McCain, Sean Smith

Advantage: TCU

The secondary crossed up Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard and stayed active against a Cardinal receiving core coming off a high against USC. Look for Bonner and Co. to make a few adjustments against a quarterback that does not make a lot of mistakes. Smith is a true playmaker for Utah and can make a play on any given snap, as evident by his four interceptions this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

TCU: Chris Manfredini, Derek Wash, Brian Bonner, Donald Massey

Utah: Ben Vroman, Louie Sakoda, Brice McCain, Brent Casteel

Advantage: Utah

Wash had his lowest punting totals of the year against Stanford, but returning to the friendly confines of Amon Carter Stadium should make last week a blip in the radar. The kickoff and punt returning has been a little inconsistent, but playing a Utah team capable of allowing the big return could be a pivotal point in the game’s outcome. Since missing his first field goal attempt of the year, Sakoda has been automatic, hitting his last 11 attempts with a long of 51 yards last week.

HEAD COACHES

TCU: Gary Patterson, seventh year (58-23, 35-17 in conference)

Utah: Kyle Whittingham, third season (19-13, 10-9 in conference)

Advantage: TCU

Patterson is usually very good at preparing his team during a short week, but he will try to bounce back from his last short-week game – a Sept. 13 loss to Air Force. It should be interesting to see if Patterson and Schultz can keep the offensive momentum alive. Whittingham has his team on a three-game winning streak that includes a win at Louisville, which proves the Utes can win against tough opponents on the road. The crowd has been the X-factor in the past two meetings between the teams, and Thursday should be no different.