Coming off a narrow 38-31 loss to Oregon, Washington State will be on the road to face Utah this week. The loss dropped the Cougars to 1-3.
Utah (3-0) is coming home from a decisive 26-10 win at Michigan. While the Utes have a proficient offense, the strength of their team is clearly their defense, which is only giving up 17 points a game. The Utes are 29th in total defense, and are among the nation's leaders in sacks, with five a game.
The questions remains, however, can Utah handle Washington State's high-powered offense? The Cougars are 1st in the nation in passing, led by senior quarterback Connor Halliday.
Utah hasn't exactly faced offensive juggernauts. They have beaten Fresno State, Michigan, and Idaho State (an FCS school). None of them are known for their offensive prowess. Fresno is averaging 244 passing yards per game and Michigan only 193 ypg. Throw in Utah's cupcake game, Idaho State (which isn't exactly a powerhouse) and you can easily come to the conclusion that Utah hasn't faced anything remotely like Washington State's offense.
So how did Utah's defense stack up against their opponents this year? Fresno had one of their better passing games against Utah. They had 283 passing yards, 40 more yards than they average. Michigan was real close to their season average, with 190 passing yards against the Utes.
Not exactly impressive. Fresno was above their average and Michigan was right at what they typically average. If that trend holds, what does that say for WSU's chances? The Cougars average 497 yards per game. If Utah only holds them to their average, well, that won't be good.
Utah does have one thing going for them. They are among the best in the nation at sacks. They have 15 in three games this year. One of Halliday's weaknesses is that he doesn't like pressure. When he is forced out of the pocket and throws on the run, he tends to throw interceptions. The Cougar offensive line has done well protecting Halliday, only giving up nine sacks in four games. Oregon only had one sack against the Cougars.
It seems a given that WSU will move the ball on Utah. The question is, can the Cougs hold back the Ute offense?
The Washington State defense hasn't been great this year, but they did play well against Oregon. They held the Ducks to 38 points, stopped the high-powered Oregon runners cold and sacked elusive Marcus Mariota seven times.
It is almost safe to say WSU has been two different teams this year. The first one went 0-2 against Rutgers and Nevada, but the second team has destroyed Portland State and almost pulled the upset of the decade against the second-ranked Oregon Ducks.
We will see which one shows up against Utah.