After previewing Utah’s offense and defense, and speaking with Block U’s Shane Roberts, our writers are ready to predict the outcome of tomorrow’s ESPN College GameDay matchup with the Utes and former Husky quarterback Troy Williams. Be sure to chime in the comments below with your own prediction.
In their 7-0 start to the season, the tale of Washington's games has mostly been one in which the team has jumped out to dominant first-half leads and coasted to easy victories. Tomorrow's game against Utah figures to change that.
Where Washington's wins have been comfortable — their three most recent games have included halftime leads of 23, 28 and 31 points — Utah's have been a struggle. In the last three weeks against Arizona, Oregon State, and UCLA, Utah has needed big second-half performances to overtake and distance themselves from the competition. Teams that don't put together quality 60-minute performances against a squad like Washington aren't likely to pull the upset, even at home in front of the vaunted Mighty Utah Student Section.
Utah has two X-factors that will decide this game, both going by the name of Williams. Joe, the running back, has made big headlines in his first two games since rejoining the team by rushing for 511 yards and five touchdowns against Oregon State and UCLA, though I suspect that says as much about OSU and UCLA's No. 116 and 84 rushing defenses as it does about Williams himself.
Meanwhile, the story of quarterback Troy Williams' departure from Washington has been well documented, and his comment about how he expects to put up "video game numbers" against the Husky defense tells me two things: One, Washington's defenders will no doubt use this bulletin board material as motivation; and two, this game means more to Troy than any other he'll play this season. If Washington gets off to one of its customary fast starts and puts the Utah offense in a 10- or 14-point hole, I fully expect Williams to start pressing and make a mistake or two that will result in turnovers.
Utah has the talent to give Washington fits, especially if Joe Williams gets in a groove and challenges the Husky run defense. But Washington has the offensive weapons to take the crowd out of this one early, and turn in a hard-fought but comfortable victory. Washington 34, Utah 21.
Nobody likes tripping to Utah. The crowd is boisterous, the MUSS is distracting, and the conditions tend to favor a more physical team which, most of the time, is the Utah Utes.
So, the question is: how does UW match up?
I was looking for a reason to pick Utah in this one, but I'm having trouble finding it. Throw the records and rankings aside and you still can't find a position grouping where Utah is better than UW. QB? WR? Offensive line? Defensive line? Secondary? Ok, you got me on the kicking game.
On paper, the Huskies look every bit the 10-point road favorite that Vegas has them listed at. Despite that, Utah will test the physicality of the Huskies in every way. They are big along the defensive front, physical in their secondary, and 100% committed to a pound-it-out rushing attack behind the resurgent Joe Williams. Their physicality takes its toll on opponents and forces them into errors. Utah's 22 takeaways leads the nation. (Interestingly, UW's 5 turnovers lost is second fewest in the nation.)
The problem is that Utah has shown an ability to do very little with all of the extra possessions that they have generated. In fact, they've only won two games by more than single digits against an FBS opponent - wins over SJSU (17 pts) and Arizona (13 pts). This stretch includes games against BYU, Oregon State, Cal, UCLA (with a backup QB), and USC.
If UW minimizes their turnovers and can get 24 points on the board, I don't see a path to a Utah victory. UW 31, Utah 16.
This game, I have the hunch, should end up like the type we were expecting but didn't get against Stanford. In the end this should come down to the trenches, turnovers, and the red zone, in that order.
It's no secret that Utah's D-line are nasty mofos (in a good way) while UW's O-line seems to get better each week. Since so many of Utah's points come off turnovers and most turnovers are the result, directly or otherwise, of pressure on the quarterback, it will be imperative for the Huskies to beat down Utah's defensive line and front seven. On a related note, Jake needs to burn their secondary without getting too comfortable and forcing throws. If the Utes are able to force turnovers, as they do so well, Washington could be in for a scare. If the Huskies are able to prevent turnovers like they do so well, they should win comfortably.
Another "if" is the success of the run blocking. Being able to establish dominance at the line of scrimmage will give Gas, Coleman, and Dotson room to roam once they get into the linebackers and defensive backfield.
Also, I feel like Troy Williams may be over-excited for this game and there's a lot of psychological science that convinces me he may not play his best Saturday. After all, if you want to mess up a worthy opponent, make them think too much; he's already doing that to himself and, although I want him to have a good game so we can play against the best version of Utah, I'm not convinced that will happen (though I'm not saying for sure it won't, either). I'm sure I'll get accused of being a mega-homer and if Utah pulls off the win a hundred Utes fans will TP my house, but whatever.
That said, if Williams does perform his best he absolutely can be a pain for the Washington defense. He isn't some pocket-only gunslinger guy, nor is he a super-ultra-dual-threat dude, but he's more than capable and can burn you both ways in spite of being neither prototype. Washington needs to remember their mistakes against Arizona and not let Williams' mobility make them play messy and allow big gains to get by them.
Lastly: I think Washington's red zone strengths on both sides of the ball versus Utah's red zone weaknesses on both sides of the ball make most of the difference. UW is killing it on both defense and offense once in the red zone while Utah is struggling. I think we'll see a lot of Utah getting close but having to settle on field goals, while Washington should be able to capitalize on these disparities.
Final: Washington 37, Utah 23.
Also, kudos to whoever caught my Waterboys reference.
This is going to be a very difficult game against a tough, well-coached team. It sometimes goes unnoticed, but Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium is one of the more intimidating stadiums in the Pac-12, with the Mighty Utah Student Section (MUSS) driving the energy inside.
The biggest key for Washington on defense is limiting the big play. The Huskies can keep Utah's offense in check, but it will be that one breakdown or big play from Utah that could be a decider. Victor Bolden's 75-yard TD run last week and Tony Brooks-James’ TD catch for Oregon are the types of plays that worry me. I think Joe Williams will get his yards, but preventing him from ripping off multiple 15+-yard runs, like he did against UCLA, will be crucial for victory. Utah leads the nation in time of possession, so Washington will need to get its defense off the field to stay fresh.
When Washington has the ball, it will be all about turnovers, where Utah leads the nation in forcing them. Washington almost never gives the ball back to the other team, but will be facing the best defense they've seen all year. The health of Utah safety Marcus Williams, an All-American candidate, will be a major factor in limiting Washington's pass game. If he's back, the vertical pass game from Jake Browning will be tougher to execute. I can also see Washington struggling to have a lightning-fast start, as has been their calling card all season. It has allowed them to put teams away early, instead of battling late into the second half, which I can see happening vs. the Utes.
I think Washington will actually play a pretty good game; Petersen has proven that he can get his team ready to play and not fall flat on the road. However, even the way the team is playing right now, and with a College Football Playoff berth in their sights, going undefeated in a season is supremely challenging. I think Washington is the better team, but one or two big plays from Utah, combined with the ball just bouncing the right way, will give Utah the advantage. They also have an All-American kicking their field goals. I hope I'm wrong (and probably am), but I'm going with Utah 24, Washington 21.
Utah is a tough team to figure out, at 7-1 having won a lot of close games. I don't really believe in the transitive property when it comes to the Pac-12, so the fact that they have not blown out teams that appear not to be very good—while Washington has done that—is really of very little impact as far as I am concerned.
I can't help but feel like Washington is the better team across the board, but I'm still feeling this will be a tight one. Utah is playing at home with a QB that is motivated, but more importantly they are a very well-coached team. I look for the Utes to give UW all they can handle in this one, but I still like the Dawgs to pull it out. UW 34, Utah 24.