Traditionally, the Utah football program under head coach Kyle Whittingham has been dominant in the trenches. With physical and athletic lineman on both sides of the ball, a lot of the Utes' success since joining the Pac-12 has been because they've won the lines of scrimmage.
So when Utah lost 33-17 to No. 19 USC last weekend, the eyes went right to the offensive line. Despite returning to all-Pac-12 performers in Orlando Umana and Nick Ford, the Utes were atrocious against USC. The Trojans were the stronger and more physical team throughout the game, as it showed with quarterbacks Cameron Rising and Jake Bentley constantly running for his life to extend the play.
"The thing we didn't count on was not being productive on offense," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said postgame last week. "We thought we'd be much more productive offensively, we have a veteran group. It's tough to win games when you turn the ball over five times — one of those turnovers was a Hail Mary at the end — and only score 10 points offensively."
Utah will have a chance to redeem itself when it faces Washington on Saturday night in Seattle. Kickoff is set for 5:30 MT and will be broadcast on ABC.
Here are THREE ways Utah pulls out the win...
1.) Win The Trenches On Both Sides Of The Ball
This is has to the TOP PRIORITY for the Utes when they face Washington. The Huskies are known for being a physical team in the trenches, so Utah will have to match that and win that battle if it wants any chance of success.
As the veteran leaders of the group, Umana and Ford must the two who rise to the challenge and meet the Huskies. Last week they both struggled as Ford wasn't as dominant as expected and Umana got beat across his face a few times as well.
One major difference for the Utes this week is that they have one game under their a belt, a chance to finally see how this new group would mesh in an actual game. They'll also be fully healthy entering this weekend as the past couple of weeks the team has hit by the contact-tracing part of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing different groups of players in different spots. That continuity can be huge and a real difference-maker.
On defense, the Huskies want to pound the ball so Utah's run defense has to be physical and able to plug the holes. If not, they need to eat up gaps and occupy opposing linemen to allow linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell the freedom to run untouched.
Last week was one the Utes want to forget, no doubt it. This team has the skill players to thrive on offense and create turnovers on defense. They just need help with their linemen controlling the tempo of the game. If that happens, look for the Utes to pickup their first won of the season.
2.) Create Turnovers
This is a play off on Utah's top priority because controlling the line of scrimmage means Washington can't run the ball and has to throw it, which results in Utah potentially creating turnovers.
Behind its big offensive line and staple of running backs, Washington is going to want to run the ball. By doing that consistently, it will set up the play-action passing game once Utah stuffs the box, which could be an issue.
But if the Huskies can't run the ball, that means that redshirt freshman Dylan Morris will be forced to throw the ball more. That's where the Utes can take advantage as Morris is completing just 59.2% of his passes for an average of 191 yards per game. A lot of his throws are checkdowns and simple ones to keep the offense moving. Any throw 10 yards or longer and Morris doesn't seem as comfortable pushing the ball downfield.
If the Mika Tafua and his defensive line can force pressure on Morris, it will go a long into forcing a bad throw or a potential strip sack.
Utah must win this battle as the Huskies are sure to try and grind out possessions to keep the Utes offensive off the field. Any chance Utah can steal an extra possession, it should be of utmost performance to capitalize.
3.) Establish The Passing Game Early And Often
Taking the next step forward on offense — and hoping leading to a victory — the Utes must get tight end Brant Kuithe, wide receiver Bryan Thompson and the rest of the pass-catchers more involved.
Kuithe and Thompson have the potential to be game-changers while Samson Nacua, Solomon Enis, Dalton Kincaid and Cole Fotheringham are phenomenal complimentary pieces. Offensive coordinator alluded to as much during fall camp, even noting that the offense will be tailored around the strengths of the unit.
One huge thing Utah has going for itself against Washington is the expected return of Britain Covey, who missed last week's opener against USC with a hamstring issue. Expected to be a full-go this weekend, Covey is the sort of dynamic difference-maker that can really open up the offense.
There's also the expectation that quarterback Jake Bentley will look much sharper this week after being able to go through an entire week as the No. 1 guy. He entered the game against USC early in the second quarter after presumed starter Cam Rising went dow with an injury — and it's since been reported that Rising is done for the season and Bentley is now 'the guy.'
Utah has the size, speed and athleticism to thrive in the passing game with all of its weapons. Doing so will then open up the running game, making the Utes difficult to defend. But it all starts with getting Kuithe, Thompson, Covey and co. rolling early.
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