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The Prediction: Utah Utes

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Do our writers think the Huskies will be able to bounce back at home against a very good Utah squad?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Pac-12 Championship Game - Washington v Utah Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Andrew Berg (6-2 Straight Up, 5-3 Against The Spread)

On paper, Utah should be a pretty clear favorite. They have been one of the best rush defenses in the country and have a pass defense to match. Their 2.5 yards per rush allowed is such a low number that it’s hard to believe it’s accurate. They have forced 15 turnovers and only given the ball away four times all year (albeit aided to an extent by good luck on fumble recoveries). Linemen Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu have done the most damage as part of the devastating defensive line. Sophomore linebacker Devin Lloyd has also broken out. The Utes are strong at every level defensively. What else is new?

The thing that differentiates this Utah team from past versions is their offensive output. Led by the wildly efficient Tyler Huntley (10.4 Y/A passing) and Zack Moss (6.6 Y/C), the Utes rank in the top 50 in the country (37th) in scoring offense for the first time since 2010. The balanced passing attack includes eight pass-catchers with at least 100 yards receiving. Bryan Thompson is the big play threat with an average of 26.5 yards per catch. As a team, they have the lowest rate of going three-and-out in the entire country. In aggregate, that adds up to the #21 offense in the country by FEI.

The Huskies have some things going in their favor. For one, the Utes lost their only other truly difficult road game against USC. Additionally, Kyle Whittingham is only 1-4 in his five chances against Chris Petersen’s UW teams. Perhaps most importantly, UW showed significant progress in the passing game against Oregon. Puka Nacua added physicality, Jordan Chin a big play threat, and Terrell Bynum some consistency in the slot. When USC beat Utah earlier in the year, it was built in the passing game, including 368 yards and 3 TDs through the air. Even a really good rushing game can only get the Huskies so far in this game. The offense will have to rely heavily on Jacob Eason. Even if Eason explodes, it might not matter if the defensive front can’t handle Moss. Will Utah manhandle Washington tacklers the way Oregon did in the second half? In my view, that battle will decide the game.

Washington- 28, Utah- 31

Jeff Gorman (5-3 SU, 2-5 ATS)

I have been the nega-Dawg around here picking losses against Arizona and Oregon, and the Huskies played much better than I anticipated in both games - on offense especially. However, I still am not convinced that side of the ball has turned the corner because of red zone and 3rd down struggles. Though it should come as no surprise that when the young talent at WR was given more opportunities, the offense moved the ball much better than it had all season. The defense is an entirely different story, but they are playing “fine” and we’ve seen over the years that with a little more experience they can be an elite unit.

Utah is a very good team this year. Their offense is in the top 50 for the first time since 2010, and is lead by the ultra efficient duo of QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss, who combine to form a physical run game and methodical passing attack. But, I worry their receivers aren’t good enough to make a truly explosive and dangerous offense. I imagine the Huskies will sell out to stop the run - the clear strength of Utah - and keep a deep safety, and make Utah dink and dunk it’s way up the field. The classic UW defense formula. With the way UW’s linebackers have been playing this season, it might not matter anyway if they sell out to stop the run. Tuli Letuligasenoa has to have a breakout game this week. Usually around this point in the season, the freshmen and redshirt freshmen start to break out - we need that more than ever from Tuli to slow down Zack Moss.

Defensively, as always, is where Utah makes its money. Leki Fotu on the defensive line is a big time player and similar to Veta Vea in how he destroys pockets from the inside out. Utah also returns a very experienced secondary with Jaylen Johnson, Javelin Guidry, and senior Julian Blackman. This group has started a ton games together, though they have been susceptible at times this year. USC in particular was able to throw on them, though not many teams have the Trojans talent outside. If there is a match up to exploit, it might be Hunter Bryant in the slot against the 5-9 Guidry, who plays nickel for the Utes. Throwing against this secondary will be a challenge.

Washington is 12-1 all time against Utah, and Chris Petersen 4-1 against them at UW. Not to mention he is undefeated coming off bye weeks as a head coach. I think Utah as a program has a very strong foundation but I don’t know they have the overall talent to finish a season with just one loss. I don’t trust them yet to win a game like this, even against a not great UW. Tyler Huntley is also banged up which will limit his explosiveness on the ground. The rested and hungry Dawgs come up big in this one.

Washington- 27, Utah- 21

Rob Foxcurran (6-2 SU, 3-5 ATS)

Utah knows what they like to do on offense. Washington knows what Utah likes to do on offense... So, can Washington stop the best rushing attack in the conference? That’ll be the biggest question around this matchup. RB Zach Moss is averaging 6.7 yards per rushing attempt against conference opponents. As a team, Utah is averaging an astonishing 219 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, the Huskies are allowing nearly 148 rushing yards per game, while Utah’s conference-best defense (and nationally best run defense) is allowing a stifling 56 yards per game on the ground. On top of that, Tyler Huntley has improved substantially since his first two years as Utah’s starting QB, and is having his best season to date. On paper, that’s a pretty tall order for Washington to overcome this Saturday.

So why am I feeling optimistic that the Huskies have a good chance of winning this game? Is it the home-field advantage? Sure. An improved passing attack? Definitely. Being well-rested after a bye week? Yup, add that to the list. The fact that Washington has a four-game winning streak over Utah stretching back to 2016? That certainly doesn’t hurt the perception that Utah has a Washington problem. All that, and Chris Petersen is a perfect 5-0 at Washington after a bye week and hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2015. This is a new season and two new teams, but as a history major (class of ‘12), I’m inclined to pay attention to stats like that.

Despite the loss to Oregon, I actually really liked what I saw from the offense for most of the game. In their last game, they were able to score 31 points on an Oregon defense that was one of the best units in the country heading into that game. While it might be a tough day running the ball for the Huskies going up against DE Bradlee Anae and company, if the coaches stay true to their word and commit to the run, I think hitting some play-action passes could lead to some explosive-play opportunities. Washington’s passing offense will have to play a major role in this game if the Huskies are going to pull out a win. And anything that Washington can get from their ground game will be a small victory in itself. On defense, if the Huskies can overcome some poor tackling woes and key in on Moss while pressuring/containing Huntley off the edge (big ifs for sure), then there’s hope. I’m confident Washington’s defense will be able to slow down Utah’s offense just enough to allow Washington’s offense to keep them in this game. Just like in last year’s Pac-12 Championship game, any turnovers could be huge and change the course of this one, as neither of these teams turns the ball over very often. If Washington can pick off Huntley even once, I like their odds. And oh yeah, for the first time in what feels like forever, Washington might have better special teams play than Utah. Peyton Henry will make his presence known in this game. Washington wins a close one at home.

Washington- 26, Utah- 23

Max Vrooman (4-4 SU, 4-4 ATS)

For the second consecutive game the Huskies will be playing a 1-loss conference opponent that needs this win to keep alive the dream of making the CFB Playoff. Luckily, this time Washington had a sorely needed bye week beforehand rather than 7 straight weeks of games. The rest is key for a Husky lineup which was battered and bruised with 4 of their top 6 offensive contributors from the start of the year unavailable by the end of the Oregon contest.

The bye was also key because of the nifty little stat that Chris Petersen has yet to lose a regular season game following an off week in his head coaching career. Of course, this will likely be the toughest post-bye week he has had to face. Because Utah is legitimately very good. The defense is just as dominant as it was a year ago with an unstoppable defensive line that is capable of pushing around the Husky front. Unlike in past years they’re able to pair it with an incredibly efficient offense centered around Juggernaut lookalike Zack Moss and massive improvement from QB Tyler Huntley.

There’s no question that if you had to pick an opposing player in the conference capable of dismantling this incarnation of the Washington defense it would be Zack Moss. He should run through this UW run defense like it’s tissue paper. Despite being loathe to do so I can’t imaging the Huskies having any chance if they don’t commit some extra resources to stopping him. Their only hope then relies on guys like Joe Tryon being able to consistently harass Tyler Huntley who has only rushed for 70 yards in the past 4 games since suffering a leg injury (he had 159 in the previous 4).

After Washington’s consistent success against a previously vaunted Oregon defense in their last game I’m less worried about the matchup on that side of the ball than I otherwise would have been. The Huskies need to continue to focus on running to the edge of the Utah defense and away from the giants up the middle. The best backs in the conference have had some measure of success running the ball on Utah despite their crazy season long numbers. Washington’s offensive line has really come together the last 2 weeks and that will be needed again tomorrow.

Can the Huskies win a coin flip against a good team for the first time this season? You would think so but...

Washington- 20, Utah- 24

FINAL TALLY

Straight Up: Washington- 2, Utah- 2

Against The Spread (UW +3.5): Washington- 3 , Utah- 1

Average Score: Washington- 25.3, Utah- 24.8