Washington enters their second Pac-12 game with a mighty big test. Many picked Utah to compete or win the Pac-12 South division going into the season. Meanwhile Washington was usually predicted third or fourth behind Oregon and Stanford at minimum. They travel to Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah for their second road contest of the year with youth at key positions. The challenge will be mighty, but the winner of this contest just might find themselves ranked at the end of the weekend.
Led by suddenly superstar worthy quarterback Keith Price, the Washington Husky offense appears to be hard to stop entering this weekend. Averaging 34.8 points per game (6th in the Pac-12), they face a defense that has only given up 43 points total in three games (14.3 per game). The Dawgs will definitely need to put up more than 14 to win this one as Utah averages 31.7 per game and the Husky defense gives up 33.3 per game (11th in the Pac-12). I am going to go out on a limb and say: whoever scores more will win.
Key Positional Battles
John White IV vs. Husky Front Seven
Utah’s running back is a 5 foot, 8 inch pain in the rear for defenses. His speed and power combo will be a challenge for the Dawgs. White put up 174 yards against BYU in a dominant performance including three touchdown runs. Additionally he rushed for 150 yards (7.9 yards per carry in both wins) in a win over Montana State. Yet in the loss to USC, White only rushed for 2.8 yards per carry with 56 yards on 20 carries. Clearly their offense is somewhat predicated on the success of White. The Huskies will need to control him in order to make QB Jordan Wynn throw the ball more and more. While last week I put the emphasis on the young outside linebackers, I think all members of the front seven will need to be a part of this week’s success. Linebacker Cort Dennison has the ability to make plays in the run game and Alameda Ta’amu will have to up the middle. The more those two succeed, the better the whole front seven will look.
If you want to see what John White looks like, watch this clip. (Ok I dare you to watch the whole thing. It is a Utah fan filming his television while talking. And he put it on YouTube. It might be the worst thing on there and that is saying a lot).
Washington Passing Game vs. Utah Defensive Backs
Keith Price is putting up 245 yards per game through the air and has the second best rating (176.58) in the Pac-12, ahead of Andrew Luck, Darren Thomas, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. He has thrown over 270 yards in each of the past three games while leading the nation in touchdown passes with 14. Basically Keith Price is the man right now. Utah meanwhile is 10th against the pass in the Pac-12 by allowing 263.3 yards per contest. They also feature two first year starters at corner in Ryan Lacy and Conroy Black. Lacy seems to be getting picked on a bit more. They both will face a talented Husky attack with receivers Jermaine Kearse, James Johnson, Devin Aguilar and Kevin Smith. Additionally the emergence of freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be a really tough match up for the Utah linebackers or safeties depending on the defensive look.
WR Dres Anderson vs. UW Cornerbacks
While DeVonte Christopher appears to have the best numbers among Utah wideouts, he racked up most of his catches in one game against USC when the Utes put the ball in the air 46 times. Christopher had 11 of his 16 catches in that game. Meanwhile freshman Dres Anderson (the son of Flipper – um, awesome!) is getting better and better. He caught six balls against USC and came back with three catches for 81 yards including a 59 yard touchdown. While Christopher may be blanketed by Desmond Trufant, Husky corners Quinton Richardson or Greg Ducre will have to shut down Anderson. That match up concerns me greatly due to the struggles of our two lesser corners.
Utah Tight Ends vs. Husky Linebackers
Aside from the two wide receivers mentioned, Utah gets a lot out of their tight ends in the passing game. With young linebackers possibly matching them in coverage, the Utes could take advantage of this match up at home this week. It remains to be seen if freshman John Timu will return, but if he doesn’t, Jamaal Kearse (also a frosh) will get more reps. With Timu, Kearse, and Princeton Fuimaono in coverage, Utah tight end Dallin Rogers could have a field day. He has 10 catches this year, including four against BYU in their last game. Yet isn’t just Rogers. TE Jake Murphy, who had a touchdown catch last game, is questionable with an injury, but Kendrick Moeai had five catches in the opener this year for the Utes. Clearly they have some depth here. The Huskies need to win this match up to get a road victory.
Keys for UW
Utah absolutely destroyed BYU two weeks ago in part because of the five fumbles they recovered in the first three quarters. The Utes are +9 in turnover margin and continually were on a short field in that game. Meanwhile the Dawgs are only +1 on the year. The Huskies got away with losing this battle against Cal last week, but Washington can’t expect this to happen again this week. Winning on the road requires discipline and smart play. Forcing turnovers, while protecting the ball will be vital.
2. Make Plays on Special Teams
This seems like a vague, cliche type key for UW, but this isn’t the case on Saturday. Utah is second in the Pac-12 in opponents punt returns at six yards per return and first in the Pac-12 in opponents kick returns at 15.75 per return (a really impressive number). Meanwhile UW is sixth in punt returns at 9.5 per game and second in kick return yardage at 26.81 per return. On the flip side, UW holds opponents to three yards per return on punts (#1 in the conference) and 11th in kick return yardage allowed at 24.5 per run back. Whoever can make some plays in this area or force the other team to make mistakes could gain a huge advantage in a game so closely matched.
3. Force Jordan Wynn to Pass
Crazy right? The Huskies are dead last in pass defense at 327.5 yards per game allowed and seem to really struggle against passing teams. Yet the Utah quarterback seems to be one of the most talked about players to play for the Utes in a long time. Many fans and pundits see his potential and hope he can get back to that type of play. Others point to an injured shoulder and make excuses. And then others simply don’t think he is very good. The reason for all this is inconsistent play from Winn this season. He is only completing 54.5% of his passes, which is 11th in the Pac-12 (only ahead of Zach Maynard of Cal). With the success of John White IV in the run game, the Dawgs need to make the Utes one dimensional. Forcing Wynn to beat you is the way to go in this one.
Player to Watch
This spot has been reserved for the opponents over the past few weeks, but this week’s game will be heavily dependent on Chris Polk’s success running the ball. After putting up 60 yards in the win over Cal, Polk will face another good rush defense in Utah. They are currently third in the Pac-12 by giving up only 79 yards per game. Polk will be looking to make more of an impact in this one on the ground then he did last weekend at home. The more Polk runs, the more UW keeps the ball. That will lead to a win for the Dawgs.