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First look: Washington State at No. 19 Utah

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 23, 2019

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley calls out to teammates at the line of scrimmage, against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley calls out to teammates at the line of scrimmage, against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

What is it? Washington State (3-1, 0-1) goes to Salt Lake City for its first true road game of the 2019 season to face No. 19 Utah (3-1, 0-1).

Where is it? Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

When is it? Kickoff is 7 p.m. PT Saturday.

Where can I watch it? FS1 will carry the broadcast.

Who is favored? Utah opened as a 7-point favorite.

How did they fare last week? The Cougars and Utes both suffered their first loss of the season. Washington State lost 67-63 to UCLA after the Bruins completed a 32-point comeback. Utah fell 30-23 to USC Friday night.

Why WSU will win: Pass coverage wasn’t a strength for Utah in last weekend’s loss to the Trojans, who, under first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, employ the very same Air Raid offense Mike Leach and the Cougars do. Matt Fink, Michael Pittman Jr. and USC threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns and the Trojan receivers made short work of the Ute defensive backs, often beating them in one-on-one coverage. Some consider USC’s receivers the best in the Pac-12 Conference, but others will give the edge to WSU. Either way, if the Utes encounter the same problems they did against the Trojans, it could be another wildly productive day for Anthony Gordon, Easop Winston Jr. and Co. Utah could be short-handed on offense, too, if 1,000-yard running back Zack Moss is still sidelined with the shoulder injury that forced him to come out of the game against USC.

Why Utah will win: While Utah’s defense struggled last week, it’ll be, without question, the best unit the Cougars have seen this season. New Mexico State, Houston and UCLA respectively rank 129th, 107th and 122nd nationally when it comes to scoring defense, whereas the Utes rank No. 21, even after conceding 31 points to USC in the Pac-12 opener. Gordon may be able to attack the Ute defensive backs, but he’ll probably have to do it under heavy pressure from Kyle Whittingham’s defensive line – a group that includes three All-Pac-12 candidates in Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu and John Penisini. When the Cougars are out on defense, they’ll have another dynamic quarterback on their hands. The last two, Houston’s D’Eriq King and UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, accounted for 10 touchdowns and 786 yards. Like both of them, Utah’s Tyler Huntley is a capable passer with elite athleticism and he showcased that in the WSU game last year, rushing 17 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

What happened last time: Each of the last three games in this series – all Washington State wins – have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Cougars won 28-24 in Pullman last season, scoring the decisive touchdown with under five minutes to play when Gardner Minshew lofted a pass to Easop Winston Jr., who caught the ball over his shoulder just shy of the sideline and put a move on Utah’s Corrion Ballard before racing into the end zone for an 89-yard touchdown. The Utes committed multiple penalties on their final possession and WSU walked out with the win, putting up 445 yard of total offense on the nation’s No. 1 defense.

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