SEATTLE – For a change, the burden and expectations are heaped on No. 9 Utah.
In the past it’s been Washington trying to stay relevant in a Pac-12 race or on the national scene when facing the Utes. Or in the case of last year’s Pac-12 championship game, it was the Huskies earning a Rose Bowl berth for the first time in 18 years.
This time, the Utes are the ones ranked in the top 10 when they visit the Huskies on Saturday, and with plenty at stake.
Utah (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) clearly needs a win to keep its top-10 ranking. The Utes also need a win to at least keep pace with Southern California in the Pac-12 South. If their slim College Football Playoff hopes are to stay afloat, a road win over Washington would certainly help boost the resume.
“It will be a big challenge for us,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We haven’t fared real well (in Seattle) since joining the league, but we have a new challenge and new opportunity this year.”
The Utes have plenty of reasons to be confident this time around.
They have maybe the best defense in the country, one that has allowed a total of 23 points in the past four games following their only loss of the season at USC. They’re coming off a shutout of California last week where the Bears managed just 83 total yards. The Utes’ offense has scored 35 or more points in three of the past four games, showing the potency they hoped to have with another year of Tyler Huntley under center and Zack Moss carrying the load.
But Washington (5-3, 2-3) has been a troublesome foe since Utah joined the Pac-12. The Huskies have won 12 of 13 matchups overall, with the Utes’ only win coming four years ago in Seattle when Washington coach Chris Petersen’s remodel was in its infancy. Last year, the Huskies beat the Utes 21-7 in the regular season and held off Utah 10-3 in the Pac-12 championship game.
If that history isn’t enough of an advantage for the Huskies, there’s this little nugget: Washington is coming off its first open weekend of the year. In Petersen’s career at both Boise State and Washington, his teams are 18-0 when coming off an open weekend during the regular season.
Petersen said the Huskies used the week to analyze all aspects after their 35-31 loss to Oregon that essentially knocked Washington out of the Pac-12 North race.
“A lot of admiration for our guys in terms of how hard they played. It’s frustrating because there’s just a couple plays where you’re like, ‘Really?’ ” Petersen said. “We just couldn’t make the plays in whatever phase it was. That’s where we are right now. We’re just trying to get better.”
Utah’s defense is exceptional, led by a run-stopping group that is the best in the country. The Utes are giving up just 56.4 yards per game on the ground. Only Arizona State has rushed for more than 100 yards against them this season. Washington’s offensive success comes when it has balance between the run game and Jacob Eason’s passing. The Huskies must find a way to get Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and whoever else ends up with carries to do better than the 2.5 yards per carry being allowed by Utah.
Washington must find a way to keep Moss under control. Moss is averaging 104 yards per game on the ground and has 10 rushing touchdowns. In his past three games, Moss has averaged 111.7 yards and scored two TDs in each.
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