Utah vs. Washington State: Everything You Need To Know

Utah (2-2) will take the field for the last time in the 2020 college football season when it hosts Washington State (1-2) at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 11:30 am MT and will air on FS1

It's been well documented over the past two seasons how Utah has struggled to close seasons. 

Including the Pac-12 title and bowl games, the Utes have 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.

So although the Utes won't be playing for a conference title this year, they still have a chance to do something that they haven't done since joining the Pac-12 in 2011; end a season with at least three consecutive wins.

“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.”

Here's everything you need to know ahead of kickoff...

Utah (2-2) vs. Washington State (1-2)

When: Saturday, Dec. 19 — 11:30 a.m. MT

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT

Dec 5, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Preparation for the game was underway prior to the Utah Utes plying the Oregon State Beavers at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Broadcast Information
TV: Fox Sports 1
Play-By-Play: Eric Collins
Analyst: Ben Leber

Radio: KALL ESPN 700 AM
Play-By-Play: Bill Riley
Analyst: Scott Mitchell

Sirius: 108
Internet: 960

Betting Line: Utah (-10.5) — Over/Under = 56.5

Dec 12, 2020; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrates with wide receiver Bryan Thompson (1) after a play in the fourth quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field.

9-8 Washington State / Utah will have a chance to even the series with a win. Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are just 3-4 against the Cougars, including a victory last season that ended a three-game losing streak in the series.

Utah turned an eight point halftime lead into a 38-13 victory over Washington State last season. The Utes held the Cougars scoreless in the second half while scoring 17 points. Quarterback Tyler Huntley threw for 334 yards and two scores while wide receivers Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua combined for 201 yards on nine catches.

“It has been rough. It’s been different. It’s been challenging. But our guys have responded as well as they possibly could have. It was tough getting the rug pulled out from under them at the 11th hour in those first two games,” Whittingham said. “That was a little bit disheartening. But it was the right decision to make. They responded and played their hearts out. It’s been a four-game season but it seems like a 14-game season. It’s been a journey. But you’ve got to be resilient, you’ve got to be tough and keep fighting. That’s what they’ve been doing.”

Dec 6, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham] before the Pac-12 Conference championship game against the Oregon Ducks at Levi's Stadium.

Utah Storyline
Regardless of what happens on Saturday, the 2020 college football season for Utah has to be considered a success. Not only will Utah get five games under their belt without losing a year of eligibility, but the extremely young team got some much needed game experience.

But as has been the issue in the past, can Utah finish a season on a high note? Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes have yet to win three gams in a row to end the season. That all could change with a victory over the Cougars, something the Utes could use to keep the mojo going.

Dec 12, 2020; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Colorado Buffaloes in the third quarter at Folsom Field.

In the game itself, quarterback Jake Bentley will be looking to capitalize on his best game of the season against a Washington State pass defense that has struggled. The Cougars have the No. 2 rush defense so expect them to load the box to stop running back Ty Jordan, which means that Bentley will have to push the ball downfield and find his weapons in Brant Kuithe and Britain Covey.

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. 

Dec 12, 2020; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Jake Bentley (8) hands the ball off to running back Micah Bernard (3) in the third quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field.

Washington State Storyline
Make no mistake, the Cougars may just be 1-2 on the season but they are extremely well rested and highly motivated to reach .500 in Rolovich's first season at the helm. Not only did Rolovich come in with a new staff, star running back Max Borghi has yet to play this season due to a back injury sustained during fall camp.

The Cougars began the season with a 38-28 victory over Oregon State. After the Beavers made it a one score game late in the fourth quarter, Washington State responded with a touchdown 10 seconds later to secure the win. It was quarterback Jayden de Laura's first game of his career and he showed the sort of improvisational skills that many believed could make the Cougars dangerous.

Nov 14, 2020; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) throws a pass against the Oregon Ducks in the second half at Martin Stadium. Oregon won 43-29.

While Utah has found its groove running the ball, the Cougars have been successful in defending it all season long — for the most part.

Oregon, who averages 189.2 rushing yards per game went off for a season-high 269 yards against Washington State in their meeting early in the season.

But apart from that outlier, the Cougars held Oregon State's Jermar Jefferson, the nation's No. 4 rusher, to 120 yards, more than 30 yards below his season average. They then dominated USC two weeks ago, holding them to just five yards on 20 carries.

What makes the Cougars difficult to run against is that they aren't blessed with a true star in the front seven, somebody who opposing offenses have to gameplan against. Instead, Washington State is armed with a multitude of players who all understand their roles and do it well.

Per usual, the Cougars have a pair of dominating receivers in Renard Bell and Travell Harris, as they've combing to count for over three-fourths of the Cougars overall production in the passing game. Running back Deon McIntosh has played well in his first season seeing a majority of the reps, averaging 101.3 yards per game (5th in the conference).

Nov 7, 2020; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver Travell Harris (1) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown with teammates during the second half against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium.

One thing Utah must account for is the expected return of running back Max Borghi, one of the most talented players in the nation. 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.

Dec 27, 2019; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Max Borghi (21) against the Air Force Falcons during the first half of the Cheez-It Bowl at Chase Field.

Utah Players To Watch: Jake Bentley, QB, Senior; Nick Ford, OL, Junior; Clark Phillips, DB, Freshman; Mika Tafua, DE, Junior

Washington State Players To Watch: Jayden de Laura, QB, Freshman; Max Borghi, RB, Junior; Renard Bell, WR, Senior; Jahad Woods, LB, Senior

Matchup To Watch: Utah Rush Offense vs. Washington State Rush Defense

Weather: 32 degrees and partly sunny at kickoff. Zero percent chance of rain with winds expected at 6 mph from the southwest.

Dec 5, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) celebrates after sacking Oregon State Beavers quarterback Chance Nolan (10) on the final drive of the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Prediction: Utah is finally looking like the team many predicted they would. After hanging on to beat Oregon State, the Utes went into Folsom Field and battered then-No. 21 Colorado 38-21 by completing dominating the second half.

I fully expect Utah to keep that momentum and mojo and roll over the visiting Cougars. Bentley has his best game of the season and throws for three scores, two of which go to Kuithe, and tops the 300-marker for the first time this season.

The defense forces two turnovers and after blowing the game open in the second quarter to take a two-score lead into the half, senior quarterback Drew Lisk finishes out his career by playing in the fourth quarter and leading the Utes to their final touchdown.

Prediction: Utah 45 — Washington State 17

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