Top 2 defenses in Pac-12 meet as No. 13 Utes faces Huskies
The top two scoring defenses in the Pac-12 meet on Saturday when the 13th-ranked Utes travel to Washington trying to keep their hopes alive for a late surge into the College Football Playoff conversation.
It's the second time in three weeks the Utes (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12, No. 12 CFP) will go on the road as the leaders of the Pac-12 South to play underdog to an unranked opponent. Two weeks ago, the Utes were routed by USC for their only loss. It's Washington (4-4, 2-3) that's favored this Saturday.
''The last year and a half we've been pretty good on the road except this one little hiccup with USC,'' Utah linebacker Jared Norris said. ''We don't fear playing on the road. We like it. We like going into a hostile environment and trying to go win a game in someone else's house.''
Utah's strength on defense has been shutting down the run. They're No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 17 in the country, giving up 113 yards per game on the ground. The Utes have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last nine games dating back to last season.
The talk about Washington's defense entering the season centered on whether the Huskies could replace a trio of all-Americans in Shaq Thompson, Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton, along with first-round pick Marcus Peters. The defense was seen as a potential weakness with all that talent gone.
What's been evident through eight weeks is the talent that was out of the limelight last season. Travis Feeney leads the Pac-12 with 6 1/2 sacks. Darren Gardenhire, Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker all rank in the top 10 in the conference in passes defensed. The Huskies are giving up 16.9 points per game, the only team in the conference allowing less than 20 points per game. The last time Washington led the conference in scoring defense: 1991.
''It's almost like the mentality of we have to prove it every week before we say hey, we're this or we're that,'' Washington coach Chris Petersen said. ''And I think that's probably the best thing our defense has done. They kind of go out there with a prove-it mentality.''
Here are other things to watch as Utah visits Husky Stadium for the first time since 1979:
MR. WILSON: Which Travis Wilson will show up for Utah? The one that was nearly flawless in impressive wins over Oregon and Arizona State? Or the one who threw four interceptions in the Utes' loss at USC? The perfect version for Utah is the Wilson who played last week against Oregon State, when he completed 14 of 19 passes for 198 yards, added 56 yards rushing and scored touchdowns running and passing.
MONTLAKE JAKE: Washington freshman QB Jake Browning is coming off arguably the best game of his young college career, throwing for four touchdowns and running for a fifth in the Huskies' rout of Arizona. Browning's 264 yards passing against the Wildcats were his most in Pac-12 play and the Huskies hope that's a sign of improved consistency after some struggles earlier in conference play.
Browning will be tested by a Utah defense that will likely be more aggressive trying to rattle a freshman quarterback.
RUN BOOKER RUN: Utah running back Devontae Booker needs just 34 yards to top 1,000 for the second time in his college career. Booker has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of his past four games, the lone exception being the Utes' loss at USC. And while Washington has a stellar scoring defense, the Huskies have been susceptible to giving up yards on the ground, allowing 100-yard rushers in three of the past four games.
''He's our guy. He means a lot to this team,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
MYLES AND MILES: Freshman Myles Gaskin is clearly Washington's running back of the future, having supplanted Dwayne Washington as the Huskies' main ball carrier. Gaskin had a streak of three straight 100-yard games snapped last week against Arizona, but remains on pace to be the first Washington freshman to run for 1,000 yards since Chris Polk did it in 2009 as a redshirt freshman.