Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Tyler Huntley has really taken the next step in his development this season, completing 73% of his passes and averaging over 10 yards per attempt. What has been his biggest improvement in your estimation? How has the pass protection been for Huntley?
He’s really sitting in the pocket and keeping his eyes down field. Tyler would get happy feet at times and really want to do everything on his own, but he has really bought into Andy Ludwig’s system and is trusting his guys around him. Tyler has always been an accurate quarterback, but now he’s really letting it fly and getting the ball to so many guys in so many different areas of the field. He just has complete control over the offense and it’s been so fun to watch.
Pass pro has been much better for him over the last four or five games. It was pretty touch and go there for a while, especially against USC, but the guys have given him a good pocket the last four games, and when he has time he’s deadly.
UWDP: Zack Moss is having another great season for Utah, averaging over 6 yards per rush. Is he 100% healthy at this point? Who else might contribute in the Utes backfield?
Shane Roberts: I think he’s close to 100%, but he missed a game and a half with a shoulder injury that happened early in the USC game, causing him to miss most of that game and the entire WSU game. Since he’s been back, and all season, he’s been a monster and is the best running back in the conference, and one fo the best in the country. Behind Zack is a very nice stable of running backs, starting with Devin Brumfield. Brumfield is a bit of a bruiser and likes to go between the tackles. Also rotating in is Jordan Wilmore, who appears to be the future of the position for Utah, as a highly recruited back that Utah stole from USC last year. He’s very Moss like, similar build, size and running style. I don’t know if he has the same speed, but I’m excited to see him develop. Then you have Devonta’e Henry-Cole, who is a bit more of a change of pace back that is a bit of a jitter bug and very quick and elusive. It’s arguably the deepest Utah’s ever been in that room, especially with Moss leading the charge.
UWDP: Britain Covey has been quiet this season with just 10 catches and only three rushing attempts. Has he been banged up? Who are the top targets for Huntley in the receiving game?
Shane: Covey will likely take a redshirt this season to continue his recovery from that torn ACL he had in the Pac-12 Championship Game last year. In the games he did play, he just didn’t have that burst you expect to see from him. You’d see it at times, but the knee just wasn’t quite right, so the coaches and him are planned to put him into redshirt mode this season to get him back 100%. Outside of him, Huntley’s very generous with ball distribution, but I’d say Bryan Thompson is evolving into Utah’s go to deep threat. He’s averaging about 26.5 yards per catch, and Tyler loves to go deep to him. He’s not been a volume guy, but when Utah goes down field, it’s often him being targeted. Along side him is tight end Brant Kuithe, who is maybe the favorite bail out for Huntley and the guy who he goes to the most to move the chains. It’s a pretty diverse cast of characters, and Huntley kind of just goes to whoever has been open, and so far this year that’s been quite a few guys.
UWDP: The Utah defense has been stellar, allowing just over 10 points per game. Who’s really stepped up this season? What has made this defense so dominant? Is there a weakness anywhere in this defense?
Shane: The whole unit has stepped up. There really is no holes in this defense. They have playmakers at all three levels, and they’ll all big and fast. It’s a group loaded with upperclassmen, similar to what UW has had over the years, and there is so much experience and NFL guys all over that side of the field. Jaylon Johnson may be the best corner in the league and will be pushing to be a 1st round pick as a junior, we all expect him gone after this season.
The defensive front is nasty, and the linebackers roam free to make plays because of that. It’s a fun unit to watch as they just hunt all over the field together, and if they sense a weakness, it’s like blood in the water to them. I love watching these guys play.
UWDP: Washington’s special teams has been a bright spot this season. How has Utah played in that phase?
Shane: Average at best. Both the place kicker and punter are freshmen, and they haven’t been bad, but they also haven’t been very good. Fortunately, Utah hasn’t had to use them very much this season because the offense has been so efficient. Redding, the place kicker, hasn’t really been tested, and he’s missed some kicks. Ben Lennon, the punter, I think is still figuring out the speed of the game, as it seems like he’s a bit rushed when he punts the ball and doesn’t get a lot of leg into his kicks. Definitely not a strength of the team this year, but with how good the offense has been, we’ll take that trade-off.
UWDP: Prediction for Saturday?
Shane: Oh, I hate predictions. I also hate that this game is in Seattle. If it was in SLC it’d be so much easier. I see it this way, Utah is the better, more experienced all around team right now than UW. Utah actually reminds me a lot of that 2016 UW team in many ways. That USC loss really got the attention of this group and they’ve balled out ever since. UW is a very talented team, and tough to beat at home, but I think Utah’s experience and depth will get the W up there, but in no way will it be easy, and I think we’re in for another UW/Utah game like we’ve seen over the last 4 years.
Thanks Shane. Be sure to check out Block U for more on the game from the Utah perspective.