Monday fast forward: Utah
Monday fast forward: Utah
In Mike Leach's two full seasons as the Washington State football coach, no Pac-12 opponent has been as consistently memorable as Utah. In Leach's first season the Cougars were embarrassed 49-6 in Rice-Eccles Stadium, the sixth loss in an eventual eight-game losing streak. Leach was so unhappy with the Cougars' effort in the game that he made the unusual move of sending the entire offensive and defensive lines to speak to the media as units after the game.
The postgame setting following last year's win over the Utes in Pullman could not have provided a starker juxtaposition as fans stormed the field when the Cougars attained bowl eligibility for the first time since 2006.
In Leach's third year the Utah game likely won't have such an immediate reaction due to it being just the fifth game of the season, but it is a winnable game on the road against a well-coached opponent and should prove to be very important in the long term.
Last season: Coach Kyle Whittingham's team had its third consecutive sub-.500 conference record since Utah joined the Pac-12, shocking Stanford but following that win with a five-game losing streak.
A concussion suffered against Arizona State ended quarterback Travis Wilson's season and put his career in jeopardy, although it appears he will try to play this season.
The Utes defense maintained its reputation for being tough to run against, allowing just 130.3 rushing yards per game. The team also had a stellar pass rush and finished tied for eighth nationally with 39 sacks.
But the Utes defense was seemingly unable to come up with takeaways, totaling just three interceptions on the year and only finished ahead of California in turnover margin among Pac-12 teams.
Players to watch:
-Travis Wilson, QB, 6-7, 240: Wilson struggles with accuracy at times, throws a bullet that is hard to catch and tossed as many interceptions as touchdowns last season. But he's also a great athlete, has a reputation for being a good leader and clearly has Whittingham's confidence. If he can play it will be a big boon for the Utes.
-Dres Anderson, WR, 6-2, 190: Anderson is one of the top returning receivers in the conference. He juuuuuust broke 1,00 yards last season (1,002 to be exact) but averaged 18.9 yards per catch. The Utes do not have proven pass catchers coming back so expect Anderson to get even more targets this year.
-Brian Blechen, S, 6-2, 215: Blechen missed last season with an injury but was Utah's top tackler in 2012 with 6.4 stops per game.
Strengths: Offensive line: Jeremiah Poutasi, Junior Salt and Siaosi Aiono are Utah's returning starters along the offensive line. Their ability to keep Wilson out of harm's way – and to spring him for the occasional huge run – will be critical if the Utes are going to nip this bowl drought before it becomes an issue. Fortunately for Utah, those three linemen are highly regarded and average almost 315 pounds between them.
Weaknesses: The Utes lost three starters from the defensive line that was so successful at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback last season. Finding a replacement for Trevor Reilly, who started games at defensive end and linebacker, will be of paramount difficulty and importance.