Andrew Berg (9-0 SU, 4-4-1 ATS)
This game has been the toughest Husky game for me to pick since the Oregon game, where I went with the Dawgs more or less out of blind faith and was gloriously rewarded for it. I’m hung up because the Utes’ noted strengths- a physical running game and a dangerous pass defense- are exactly how a team would seek to counter UW. On the other hand, the Huskies have better players, better results, and consistently better performances. How do you find an edge in that?
Of course, Utah’s strengths are not absolute and they do not exist in a vacuum. Washington will prepare for this opponent with their strengths and weaknesses in mind. UW has defended the run more effectively when the opponent doesn’t offer a complementary passing threat (Boise, Cal, ASU). The Dawgs have also tended to toughen up deep in their own territory when space is at a premium to force turnovers or field goals. Utah doesn’t play with the pace or explosiveness to score in the high-30s, so the defense does not have to play a perfect game; it only has to prevent the Utah offensive from grinding them to dust.
On the other side of the ball, much will depend on how much time Michael Penix has to operate. Utah has rushed the passer well and Jonah Elliss has been a big part of that. UW has been much more susceptible to pressure up the middle. Will the Utes bring extra players at UW’s iOL or try to rush with four and cover the talented receiver group? Dropping into coverage generally has not worked against this offense, but it goes against Utah’s tendency to blitz up the middle early and often. Utah’s run defense is in another stratosphere from USC’s, but I still expect to see more of Dillon Johnson after his breakout game last week.
I’m giving more questions than answers, but I think the most likely way for the game to play out is that it remains close, the Dawgs are able to force Bryson Barnes into a turnover deficit and hold up for a couple of red zone FGs, while Penix, Odunze, and Polk combine for enough big plays to build a lead that holds up in the end.
Washington- 28, Utah- 23
Mark Schafer (9-0 SU, 6-2-1 ATS)
After an absolute shootout against USC, the Dawgs are 9-0 and headed into another fight with Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes, this time with the support of the home crowd. Look for Utah to try and milk the clock and try to smash through the Dawg defense with an aggressive run game to take the pressure off of Bryson Barnes. Maybe we’ll see Nate Johnson for some Zone Read/Read Option sets, which our defense struggled mightily with against USC last week, but if we can keep that contained, then we should be fine. Utah doesn’t like to go down field all that often, as Barnes is averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. If the Huskies can keep everything in front of them, then the defense will have done their job.
Offensively the key will be the same as always: give Michael Penix time in the pocket and he will take you where you want to go and score you points. Utah likes to get pressure from the edge, so the line will have to be on from the jump, but hopefully they can keep Mike clean, and he can shred the Utes defense. Look for Dillon Johnson to be involved again, to take some of the pressure off Mike, and look for the Dawgs to win a close one against the Utes.
Washington- 45, Utah- 38
Max Vrooman (8-1 SU, 4-4-1 ATS)
There may not be two teams in the conference as radically different than Utah and USC so playing them back-to-back is liable to give some fans whiplash. The Husky offense is very good but also didn’t face any resistance whatsoever in Los Angeles while the defense was tasked with stopping elite athletes at every skill position. Utah is toughness personified under Coach Whittingham and pairs a physical defense with an offense that has been decimated by injuries.
How decimated? Compared to their opening season depth chart Utah is without their: starting Quarterback, 2nd string Running Back (starter is questionable), starting Slot Receiver, and both starting Tight Ends. Imagine if Washington were not only without Cam Davis, Jalen McMillan. and Matteo Mele right now but also missing both Devin Culp and Jack Westover plus Dylan Morris was at quarterback. That the Utes have not just a functional but also decent offense is amazing.
The defense though is legitimately great even after losing star linebacker Landon Barton for the season. Edge rusher Jonah Elliss leads all power conference players with 12 sacks and the key matchup of the game will be if Troy Fautanu and Roger Rosengarten can keep him away from Michael Penix Jr.
The forecast for tomorrow calls a chance of rain but a substantial breeze. That would seemingly help Utah who would much prefer to keep a ground and pound attack than have to slow down UW’s aerial attack. Combine that with the fact that UW has never scored 35 points against Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12 and I think the Dawgs pull it out but in a relatively low scoring affair.
Washington- 31, Utah- 24
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 3, Utah- 0
Against the Spread (UW -8): Washington- 1, Utah- 2
Over/Under (49.5): Over- 3, Under- 0
Average Score: Washington- 34.3, Utah- 28.3