In what could very well be Utah's last game of the 2020 college football season, the Utes want to make sure they end it better than they have the past couple of seasons.
Including the Pac-12 title and bowl games, Utah has gone a combined 0-4 in its final two games of the 2018 and 19 seasons. But in the other 24 games of those two years, Utah has gone a remarkable 20-4.
Not finishing out the season's on a high note has been a disturbing trend for the Utes. Come this weekend, it's now something they will look to rectify when they host Washington State on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 11:30 a.m. MT and will broadcast on the FS1.
“It is sad. This is the first time in my career that we’re not playing for a championship. Or the opportunity to go to a championship,” wide receiver Britain Covey said. “It’s different. You’ve got to dig deep. You’ve got to find what motivates you. We’re going to have one more game and this has been such a weird season.”
Interestingly enough, Utah's inability to finish a season has also manifested in its inability to finish games early on in the year.
The Utes blew a 21-0 halftime lead against Washington, losing 24-21 after being shutout in the second half. After leading 30-10 against Oregon State the following week, Utah hung on for a 30-24 win despite running just 11 plays in the fourth quarter in what was a showing of dismal offensive play-calling.
"Just kind of got too vanilla and not imaginative and we knew we want to milk the clock,” Utah head coach Whittingham said postgame against Oregon State regarding their fourth quarter play-calling. “That was awful to have three three-and-outs in a row at the end of the game when we could have put the game on ice. ... We couldn’t do it, which is unacceptable.”
After changing that narrative last week against No. 25 Colorado in their 38-21 win, Utah will look to keep that momentum against the Cougars on Saturday morning.
Here are THREE ways Utah pulls out the win...
1.) Utah Must Step On Washington State's Throat When Given The Chance
Utah's struggles to close out games has been well documented throughout the years under Whittingham. But those struggles reached a DEFCON 5 level this season when Utah blew the 21-point lead to the Huskies and then followed that up by nearly blowing a 20-point lead against Oregon State.
Utah's primary issue when it came to milking the clock in games with leads was that all imagination and creativity that was done too achieve the lead in the first place was gone. The Utes became predictable with a run-only or run-run-pass approach, a plan in which Washington and Oregon State figured out defensively.
Make no mistake, Washington State is no Washington/Oregon State. The Cougars have the Pac-12's second worst scoring defense so points should come relatively easily. But Washington State also has an offense that can score points in a hurry, especially with return of star Max Borghi.
Utah cannot afford to slow play a lead should it get one. The Utes must stomp on Washington State's throat should it get the opportunity, and do so by staying creative. They must continue to take shots deep to Solomon Enis and Bryan Thompson, which will open things up for Brant Kuithe and Britain Covey underneath. Fin
Finishing this season on a high note, especially with a stomping of Washington State, is a great way to lead into next season.
2.) Jake Bentley Must Stretch The Field With Success
Utah freshman running back Ty Jordan has really come on the past two games, being named back-to-back Pac-12 freshman of the week after averaging 157 yards per game and three total touchdowns during that span. Make no mistake, Washington State is fully expected to load the box against the Utes and force quarterback Jake Bentley to beat them with his arm.
So far this season, Bentley has been underwhelming as a Ute after a successful career at South Carolina. In four games, he's thrown for more than 175 yards just once while completing at least 20 passes just once as well. He has two bonafide threats in Kuithe and Covey, a tight end and slot receiver who are all-Pac-12 worthy — but he's had trouble getting them the ball, particularly Kuithe.
With the Cougars daring Bentley to win with his arm, he has to take advantage of that. He must push the ball downfield and take necessary chances when he sees one-on-one coverage on the outside. If he can do that, it would completely open up the game for the Utes and make them nearly impossible to defend when combined with Jordan's running capabilities.
3.) Easier Than It Sounds, Contain Max Borhi
The expected return on Washington State star running back Borghi is enough to cause a shiver down any defenses back — he's that good and that special. After dealing with an unspecified back injury, Borghi returned to practice two weeks ago and went through warmups last weekend before the game was canceled.
But now he's ready to roll, even if it's just for one game this season — and that's enough cause for concern for the Utes. Borghi ran for 817 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns on 127 carries last season, adding another 86 catches for 597 yards and five scores.
He's absolutely dynamic with the ball in his hands, and an instant game-changer as soon as he steps onto the field. With Borghi in the lineup, the Cougars become much more balanced on offense and even more difficult to defend.
You can expect head coach Nick Rolovich to get the ball into Borghi's hands as much as possible, which means the Utes must key on him. Linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell, two uber athletic juniors, will be tasked with following Borghi, especially once the Utes go into man coverage.
There's really no stopping Borghi, but containing him would be considered a massive win for the Utes.
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