The Washington Huskies have climbed to number 4 in the country after their easy win against Oregon State. The score does not do justice on how dominant Washington was last weekend. Twenty one unanswered points in the first quarter lead the Huskies to coast the rest of the game. Jake Browning's efficiency took a bit of a dip due to trying to throw 30+ yards each time he went to the air (it seemed). He still amassed 291 yards and three touchdowns thrown with one more run into the end zone as icing on the cake. This matchup against the Beavers was perhaps the easiest game left on the schedule for the Huskies. Though they are likely favored in all the regular season games left, they will face some challenges that could trip them up from going undefeated. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be against the “find a way to win” Utes in Salt Lake City this weekend. Oh and one more thing College Game Day will be in town so the country will be watching this top 25 matchup closely.
Washington will go on the road to take on a Utah team that allowed UCLA to score 45 points with their backup QB. Luckily, for Utah the combination of a record setting day for Joe Williams combined with terrible UCLA defense lead the Utes to a win by scoring 52 points. This has setup perhaps the biggest Pac-12 game (now that we know Stanford is not so good) of the regular season. Let's see what the Utes are up to in Salt Lake and break down the offense and defense.
Utah Utes offense is lead by junior quarterback Troy Williams. If that name sounds familiar to Husky fans it is because Troy Williams was the backup quarterback to Cyler Miles through 2014. Williams transferred to Santa Monica college in 2015 and then this year to Utah. Williams won the starting job and has been consistent in his ability to win late in the game. Four of Utah's wins have come by a touchdown or less this year. Williams' numbers are not stellar. He has thrown 7 touchdowns against 5 interceptions and is only completing 56% of his passes. His best game thus far was arguably a month ago against San Jose State where he completed over 70% of his passes and threw for 257 yards. Last week however Williams only completed 50% of his passes and threw for no touchdowns and 1 interception. Williams will likely struggle against the best defense in the Pac-12 and cornerbacks and safeties who will limit his yardage through the air. The next weapon in Utah's arsenal is the phenomenal comeback kid Joe Williams. Joe Williams story this season is fascinating. One month ago Joe Williams announced his retirement from football due to chronic injuries. Due to massive depletion of running back depth Joe Williams was goaded back into action two weeks ago where he ran for 179 yards and helped seal a close win for Utah against Oregon State. Last week Joe Williams set the Utah rushing record with 332 yards with 4 touchdowns and a staggering 11.4 yards per carry. Not bad for a guy who was retired in September. As UCLA kept the game close Joe Willliams put the Utes team on his back and carried them forward for a win. If the Huskies do not want this game to be a nail biter they will need to shut down Joe Williams and prevent the effect rush game Utah has put forth the past few games. Utah has a decent offensive line that will provide some protection for Troy Williams but unlikely its enough to compete with a fast and furious Washington defensive line hungry for sacks and stopping the run.
Utah's defense has been their bread and butter this season. Their 7-1 record is mostly due to successful defensive stands that have allowed them to squeak by in multiple games. Utah's current turnover margin is +8. This is mostly due to the surprisingly strong secondary that has nabbed 14 picks through 8 games versus throwing only 5 interceptions in that span. They have recovered 8 fumbles as well though they have given up 9 on offense. Brian Allen and Jordan Fogal each nabbed an interception in the last game against UCLA yet allowed UCLA to throw 70 passes for 464 yards last weekend. Even with the positive turnover margin the Utes will need to get back to solid tackling and muster up pressure on the quarterback if they are going to prevent Browning from having a field day. On the defensive line Utah is without defensive end starter Kylie Fitts and even more devastating for the Utes is the loss of defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei who is projected by some to be a 1st round draft pick. This will impact Utah's ability to both stop the run and pressure Browning. Not a good omen for Utah especially after the high scoring debacle last week they somehow came away from with a win.
Now let's get back to the new big, bad boys on the block. The Huskies are going to play lights out this game. They certainly know what is at stake now. With Ohio State's loss the Huskies are nearly guaranteed to make the college playoff if they stay undefeated and win the Pac-12 championship.
Checking in with the offense things are still looking good for the Huskies mid-season. The Dawgs are healthy and the pass and run game continue to work in tandem to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Jake Browning now has 26 touchdowns to his name through the air and four more on the ground. He is likely going to shatter the touchdowns in a single season record of 33 currently being held by Keith Price. Myles Gaskin is back to his 100+ yards per game average he regularly achieved last year. He managed 128 yards versus the Beavers last weekend averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Those are no Joe Williams numbers but the likelihood Gaskin can repeat that performance versus Utah is far more likely than Joe Williams repeating his last performance against a superior Husky defense. Dante Pettis and John Ross continue to dominate secondary coverages as each went over 100 yards against OSU. Pettis also added 2 touchdowns last game. We can expect Chico McClatcher to be in the mix this weekend as well for a potential 100-yard game versus the Utes.
Defensively, Washington is in far better shape than Utah in terms of health and production. The Huskies easily lead the NCAA in turnover margin currently at +14. The one concern heading to Salt Lake City is Joe Mathis continuing to be out of commission. His replacement Connor O'Brien was able to snag the only sack against OSU so the concern is not too deep. Utah does not have the talented receiver corps that the Huskies are delivering this Saturday and one can expect Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Kevin King and JoJo McIntosh to contain the pass game with few issues. Though UW has been strong on run defense this year the matchup against Joe Williams could be problematic. However, the last few times a highly touted runner threatened the Huskies in Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman the Dawgs had no problem shutting down these effective runners and holding them far below their game average for rushing yards. It would also not be surprising to see Washington get more pressure on Troy Williams then they were able to pressure Beaver quarterback McMaryion last week. Utah seemingly presents a similar challenge that Stanford produced. A tough defense with a so-so quarterback and talented running back. Shut down Joe Williams and likely the defense will have done enough to allow the Huskies a comfortable win.
Lastly, we must mention special teams for both the Huskies and Utes. The Utes have a slight advantage in the kicking game as they are perfect on extra points and hitting 13 of 16 on their field goals for the year. Huskies are only 6/9 on field goals and only have hit 2 of 5 over 40 yards. In the return game Washington still has an advantage with Pettis and Ross ability to break one loose all the way to the house on any return. Utah's Cory Butler-Byrd did have a 99 yard return last week on the opening kickoff against UCLA so he may pose a threat to UW's special teams.
Overall, despite Utah's ranking at 17 it seems clear that the Huskies are expected to be the better squad on both sides of the ball. Utah's only hope to win this game is to get Joe Williams chugging again and to somehow find a way to slow down Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin. The road game versus Arizona is proof it can be done but with the momentum in the last few games going in the Huskies direction it will be difficult to slow down the juggernaut Washington team as they speed down the Husky Hype Highway towards the National College Playoff. Now let's make some game predictions.
-Browning throws for over 300 yards
-Utah total rushing held to under 150 yards
-Utah passing held to under 200 yards
-UW wins the turnover margin by at least 2
-Utah falls behind early by two touchdowns
-Gaskin gets his 4th 100+ yard game in a row
-Huskies get 3+ sacks
Final Score Prediction: Huskies 38 - Utah 17