Matchup: Washington Huskies (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) at Utah Utes (2-1, 0-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. (PST), Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah.
TV, Radio: The game will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net (Root Sports in the Northwest). Ron Thulin, J.C. Pearson and Jeremy Bloom will provide the commentary. It can be heard in Seattle, Wash., on the radio on 950-AM KJR with Bob Rondeau doing the play-by-play, Damon Huard doing color commentary and Elise Woodward reporting from the sideline.
Coaches: Steve Sarkisian, Washington (third year); Kyle Whittingham, Utah (seventh full year).
Series: This will be the first time the two teams meet as conference opponents, but they have met six times before. Washington has won all six meetings. Each of those games was in Seattle, with the most recent game being in 1979, when the Huskies won 41-7. Utah has only scored more than one touchdown in one meeting. That was in 1953, when the Utes scored 14 points in a 21-14 loss.
About the Huskies: On offense, the Huskies are full of playmakers. Tailback Chris Polk was expected to be the focal point of the offense, but he's fallen into the number two slot. He's had a strong season, gaining over 100 yards of total offense in each of the Huskies' first four games. But it's been quarterback Keith Price who's carried the offense. His 14 touchdown passes have him tied for the national lead. Just one more scoring toss would place him in the top 10 for a single season in Washington history. He gives the credit to his receivers getting open and that has certainly been the case. Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, James Johnson and Kasen Williams have each proven to be reliable targets for Price. He also has true freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins as a new target with more production each. Seferian-Jenkins caught two touchdowns against California last week.
The Husky defense has struggled all season and injuries have made a tough season even tougher. Defensive end Hau'oli Jamora tore his ACL against California and his pass rushing presence will be missed. Freshman Josh Shirley will start in his place. He is a speed rusher who has looked good in practice, but has yet to be fully game tested. A goal-line stand inside the final minute against California could give the defense some confidence heading into Utah.
About the Utes: The Utah offense has been relying heavily on a player in his first season with the team. Tailback John White is a junior college transfer who is ranked second in the Pac-12 and 12th in the nation in rushing yards with 126.7 yards per game. White is a speedy back who is tough to stop when he picks up speed. The Utes have a zone running scheme and White has picked it up well in his first year, which has led to his early success. Utah isn't going to throw much, but third-year quarterback Jordan Wynn is still a productive quarterback. He is a game manager and doesn't make many mistakes, throwing just one interception all season, but he also has just five touchdown passes.
The key to the Utah defense is its ability to force turnovers and create big plays. The Utes are tied for the national lead for fumbles recovered with eight in just three games. They are ranked third in turnover margin with 12 takeaways and three giveaways on the season. Utah's ability to create big plays gives the Utes a bend but don't break mentality and boosts their defensive red zone stats. They are tied for the best red zone defense in the conference, allowing opponents to score on just 50 percent of their trips inside of the 20. Sophomore linebacker Trevor Reilly is one of the Utes' playmakers. He forced three fumbles, recorded two sacks, three tackles for a loss, a fumble recovery, and a pass break up during Utah's lopsided win at BYU this season.
What to expect: Utah's running attack is going to test the Huskies young linebackers and that could pose a problem for Washington. If White can get by Alameda Ta'amu and the Husky defensive line, he should be in for a big day. Running inside will be a problem so his day will be solid, but it shouldn't be a game-breaking performance. On the other side of the ball, Utah will have to pick its poison. The Utes can try to stop Polk or they can try to stop Price, but they likely won't be able to stop them both. Utah lost its conference opener against USC and has had a week off to think about it. The Huskies come in bruised and beaten up looking ahead to a bye week. It's anyone's game but the difference maker come Saturday would be the Huskies' experience of pulling out close games. All three of the Huskies' wins have been in games that came down to the final moments. Saturday could be no different.
UDubNation.com pick: Washington, 31-27
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