The Washington Huskies are back in the friendly confines of Husky Stadium this weekend, where they will welcome the Utah Utes for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff. Both teams enter the game looking to turn their fortunes around: The Utes sit one game away from bowl eligibility, despite winning just one of their last six games, while the Huskies look to rebound from their upset loss on the road last week against Stanford, as well as the surprising suspension of preseason all-American Azeem Victor following his DUI arrest early Sunday morning. The betting line for Saturday’s game sits at 17.5 points in favor of Washington, while ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Dawgs a 94 percent chance to win. What result do the Dawg Pound writers expect to read on the scoreboard at game’s end?
Last week, the Huskies lost a game they were favored to win. It was the second time that has happened this season, and while I don’t think Utah is a pushover, I also don’t think it happens for a third time this weekend.
One of the reasons I feel that way is Washington’s recent history. Namely, they don’t lose a lot of back-to-back games. Under Chris Petersen, UW is 9-4 in games following a loss; furthermore, the program hasn’t lost back-to-back games in the same season since Nov. 14, 2015, when the Huskies dropped consecutive games to Utah and Arizona State. Since then, the Dawgs are 23-4.
If the Utes have an advantage to exploit, it’s going to come in the form of Tyler Huntley’s connection with Darren Carrington. After making Husky fans particularly miserable in 2015 as a member of the Oregon Ducks, Carrington now leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game (92.2), and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in four games this season. Stanford proved beyond a doubt last week that Washington’s injury-depleted secondary is susceptible to big-bodied receivers, which means that Kyle Wittingham’s best chance of winning Saturday means consistently getting the ball into the hands of his 6-3, 205 lb. stud receiver.
Fortunately for Washington, the Utes lack any true all-conference skill players outside of Carrington. Quarterback Tyler Huntley’s legs are certainly an intriguing threat, and the Dawgs will need to show discipline when the Utes run the option, but running back Zack Moss has struggled mightily against the Pac-12’s better run defenses, earning just a combined 85 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon and Washington State.
Utah has long prided itself as a defensively sound program under Whittingham, and that reputation is on bright display in 2017. The Utes really don’t have any glaring weaknesses: They rank fourth in the Pac-12 in the categories of rushing and passing defense, and have surrendered just 24.1 points per game. However, they have given up more than 300 rushing yards twice on the season (to Oregon and USC), suggesting that Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman might be able to find success on the ground.
While I think the Huskies are the clear better team, I don’t think that they are so clearly the better team that the 17.5-point spread will be accurate. I’ll be surprised if the starters are out for anything more than the final drive in this one. Washington 31, Utah 24.
Luckily, this should be the game where the defense can regain form even if they're still hounded by injuries in the secondary. Tyler Huntley is a mobile quarterback who can pick on them on the ground if they're not disciplined -- and he's good enough in the air to have taken the job over from incumbent Troy Williams -- but he's also a redshirt freshman who makes redshirt freshman mistakes, among those being a relatively high rate of interceptions to touchdowns.
Then the Huskies' offense is going up against a defense that's having a bit of a down-year (although I'd raise my eyebrow at anyone who thinks this lull at Utah is permanent), especially in the pass rush and other aspects of the defensive line. I'll be surprised if the Dawgs can't take advantage of that, especially in the run game. Then again, I predicted they'd be able to take advantage of Stanford's somewhat more struggling-than-usual defense, so...
Still though, this is a different beast than Stanford who, in their five recruiting classes still on campus, has a sizable talent advantage over UW -- while UW has the same talent advantage over Utah combined with, realistically, advantages in both offense and defense.
I know I had this score down for last week, but this week I think it'll _actually_ happen, so... 31 - 13, Huskies win.
It’s hard to not separate the emotional burn from last week’s defeat from the task of assessing the data points that help to give a sense of how the game ahead might go. This may sound controversial, but the Huskies played well enough to beat Stanford last week. Two dropped Keishawn Bierria interceptions, a failed fourth down conversion in the red zone and a terrible facemasking penalty were the four specific plays that turned a double-digit UW win into a one-possession defeat.
Obviously, bad breaks and negative plays happen in every game. Nevertheless, we can see even after last week that UW has the tools it needs to win. Their rushing offense matches up well against a Utah rushing D that is 105th in SB Nation’s points per rush statistic. The Husky D matchup well against a Utah offense that is 96th in points per possession (using the same tool) and 88th in converting drives that go across the defenses 40 into points.
I clearly see UW winning this one. The only question I have is whether or not we’ll see a clear improvement in execution. Will the passing game get untracked? Will Ty Jones and Salvon Ahmed show some playmaking ability? Will the rumored return of Byron Murphy give the pass D more potency? Will Jake Browning eliminate the hesitance and just let it rip?
Who knows? But I’m still going UW. Utah 17, Washington 30