No. 21 Utah to rely on Booker in trip to Fresno State
Whoever starts at quarterback may end up handing the ball off to Devontae Booker 25 times and watching him run through the Fresno State team that once pulled a scholarship offer.
No wonder the Bulldogs (1-1) are more concerned with stopping Booker than they are deciphering the identity of No. 21 Utah's quarterback - whether it's injured starter Travis Wilson or backup Kendal Thompson.
Unless Fresno State can stop the run, it's going to be difficult to end its 20-game losing streak to nationally ranked opponents dating to 2004.
''Whichever quarterback starts or plays, I think (Booker's) obviously one of their best players,'' Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. ''I've got to figure that they'd like to take the pressure off the quarterback, and if Wilson is hurt they certainly wouldn't want to get Thompson hurt.
''The best way to do that is to get the ball out of his hands and who better to give it to than Booker, because he's a heck of a back.''
Booker, a 1,500-yard rusher last season, was offered a scholarship to Fresno State out of high school. However, Fresno State reportedly pulled the offer for academic reasons and Booker is still miffed.
''Basically, it's motivation for me to go out there and play hard against them,'' Booker said.
When Wilson sprained his non-throwing shoulder last week against Utah State, Booker carried the load 31 times for 120 yards to avoid an upset to Utah State.
Even if Wilson doesn't miss Saturday's start, expect the Utes to lean heavily on the run. The Bulldogs allowed 215 rushing yards in last week's 73-21 loss at No. 14 Ole Miss, tying for the most points allowed in school history.
Last season, Utah ran for 258 yards - with Wilson and Thompson combining for 108 - in a 59-27 win over Fresno State. Booker only rushed 10 times for 67 yards in that game, something Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hopes to improve on.
''We haven't really gotten Booker on track yet,'' Whittingham said. ''That has to happen. That will happen.''
Here are some things to watch when the Utah visits Fresno State on its first road trip of the season:
SLOW START: Fresno State's reputation as an ''anyone, anytime, anywhere'' giant killer has taken a hit with five straight losses by an average score of 56-20 to Power Five Conference teams since December 2013. And, it's been over before it gets started - the Bulldogs have been outscored 94-8 in those five first quarters and 138-39 by halftime. They're facing a Utah team that hasn't allowed a first-quarter score this season.
QUARTERBACK WATCH: Fresno State won't announce its starting quarterback until Saturday, with freshman Chason Virgil pushing for his first start ahead of Zack Greenlee. Virgil threw two interceptions off the bench at Ole Miss, which does not bode well against a Utes defense that is tied for third in the nation with five interceptions.
RUN AROUND: The Utes' rush defense leads the Pac-12 Conference with 96.5 yards allowed per game, with senior linebacker Gionni Paul winning Pac-12 defensive player of the week honors after seven tackles, an interception and fumble recovery against Utah State. They're tasked with stopping Bulldogs running back Marteze Waller, who rushed for 1,368 yards last season.
HOME RUN: Fresno State is 18-2 at Bulldog Stadium under DeRuyter, while Utah is 0-3 all-time in Fresno. The Utes have won three straight against their former Western Athletic Conference colleague.