If Utah wants to emerge victorious against Washington on Saturday night, winning in the trenches has to be the TOP PRIORITY for the Utes. Last week, Utah was dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball by USC, resulting in a 33-17 loss and being shutout in the second half.
That can't happen this week if Utah wants to pickup its first win of the season.
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, all-Pac-12 performers Orlando Umana and Nick Ford must be 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 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.
UTAH Players To Watch
-- Bryan Thompson, WR, Junior: Thompson needs to be a bigger factor this week against Washington if Utah wants any chance. Expect Kuithe to once again be double-teamed, which means that another Utah playmaker needs to rise up. Thompson has drawn raves throughout fall camp and somebody who's completely changed his body and won many battles. If he can do that on Saturday, it spells good things for the Utes.
-- Orlando Umana, C, Senior: Last week was not how Umana envisioned beginning his senior season, struggling against the USC defensive lineman with a few bad snaps as well. But after not playing for nearly a year, hopefully Umana got those senior-season jitters out is ready to play. His communication and leadership will be vital when going up against the Huskies
-- Jake Bentley, QB, Senior: Bentley takes the reigns as the starting quarterback after Cameron Rising suffered a season-ending injury on the first play of the second quarter last week. Bentley came in and had an up-and-down performance, showcasing the ability to sustain drives when given time to throw. After a week getting all the first-team reps, all eyes will be on him to see if he can take the next step forward and elevate the offense.
-- Nephi Sewell, LB, Junior: Sewell had a breakout performance last week in his first career start at linebacker, recording 10 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown. He will face a much bugger task this week with having to defend Huskies tight end Cade Otton, their top pass catcher. If Sewell can have a similar performance to last week, expect Utah to be in this game.
WASHINGTON Players To Watch
-- Dylan Morris, QB, Freshman: Morris hasn't exactly dazzled in his first two starts with the Huskies, doing just enough to keep defenses honest and from loading the box against the run. He's going to have to do more that just manage a game against the Utes, as they'll be sure to dial up different looks and blitzes. How Morris handles that pressure will go a long into determining the outcome of this game.
-- Cade Otton, TE, Junior: If Morris is going to be successful, Otton will be a big part of that as Morris' primary target. He leads the team in catches and yards, and at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, is deemed a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. If Otton can consistently move the chains or require double teams, it will open up the rest of the Washington.
-- Zion Tupuola-Fetui, OLB, Sophomore: Tupuola-Fetui is a true difference-maker for Washington. While listed as an outside linebacker, he's best utilized when rushing the passer as he leads the conference with four sacks on the season. Utah struggled dealing with USC's pass-rushers last week, which could mean a huge week for Tupuola-Fetui if the Utes don't adjust.
-- Elijah Molden, DB, Senior: A fringe first or early second round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Molden is simply put "a very good football player." Often lining up in the slot as the nickel corner, Molden has the ability to cover anybody in the conference and make plays in the running game. He'll often be paired up against Utah's Britain Covey, and the winner of the battle will massively help their team in the long run.
12-2 Washington / Utah was on a four-game losing streak entering last season's game before winning 33-28. Of those past five games, all but one of those has been decided with in a single-score. Washington won 10-3 in the 2018 Pac-12 championship game.
Last year, Utah came from behind to score 21 straight points in the second half and stun Washington in Seattle. After trailing 21-13 midway through the third quarter, the Utes rallied to score on three of their next four possessions for the 33-21 lead. Mika Tafua recovered a fumble for the Utes as Elijah Molden and Trent McDuffie did the same for the Huskies.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"A lot of positives, however, especially on the defensive side. Our defense played scrappy. The run defense was solid," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said postgame against USC. "The thing we didn't count on was not being productive on offense. 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. You aren't going to win many games in this league doing that."
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