Over the past couple of seasons, Utah has been known as a program with an extremely talented defense and an offense capable of doing what it needs to win. Only one other team in the Pac-12 can relate — and that's the Washington Huskies.
So when these two teams meet on Saturday night in Seattle, fast and physical will be the name of the game.
Here's a breakdown of Washington thus far...
Washington entered the season with questions marks on both sides of the ball, and through two games some of the questions have been answered.
The defense is once again one of the tops in the conference, led mainly by — and tell me what else is new — a talented secondary and great group of pass rushers. The offense is still a work in progress, primarily quarterback Dylan Morris and his group of pass catchers.
Yet the Huskies are 2-0 with victories over Oregon State (27-21) and Arizona (44-27).
The win over the Beavers was a contentious one as two bad spots by officials ended Oregon State's comeback bid and allowed Washington to escape with a season-opening win.
While questions began to arise regarding the Huskies on both sides of the ball following that win, the Huskies went about their business and put any and all doubt away with its resounding win over Arizona.
Washington dominated the Wildcats, jumping out to a 37-0 lead through three quarters and never looking back. Credit to Arizona, who scored 27 points in the fourth quarter to make it respectable.
Morris was much more respectable in this game, finishing 15-of-25 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Four different running backs ran for 35 yards or more, paced by Richard Newton's 81 yards and two scores. Cade Otton caught seven passes for 100 yards and a score.
It's been a tale of two games for the Huskies and they're still figuring out how to put all of their pieces together.
The have a stable of running backs, but nobody has emerged as a true No. 1 guy. Sean McGrew, Richard Newton and Kamari Pleasant have combined for 352 yards and six touchdowns on 61 carries. They each bring something different to the group and finding a way to stop them has been difficult.
But the old adage that Washington just wants to run the ball is false, as the Huskies would love to be closer to a 50-50 run/pass play-calling scenario. That's where the pass-catchers enter as tight end Cade Otton has emerged as their top threat, he leads the team with eight catches for 104 yards and a score. Wide receiver Terrell Bynum and running back Cameron Davis rank second on the team with five catches each.
The anomaly is Puka Nacua, brother of Utah receiver Samson and a legitimate threat at the position. He showed flashes of skillset as a true freshman when he caught seven passes for 168 yards and two scores. Yet that hasn't translated to his sophomore season, as he has just three catches for 84 yards and a score.
Part of Puka's struggles can be blamed on the inconsistency of Morris. He's completing just 59.2% of his passes for an average of 191 yards per game. with an average of 7.6 yards per attempt. 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. However, he has done just enough to keep teams from loading the box against the run.
Clearly the strength of the team, the defense is once again a dominant unit who can plays at all three levels.
Edefuan Ulofoshio is the new leader of the defense with a team-high 15 tackles and four passes defended thus far. At 6-foot, 230 pounds, he shows the ability to not only cover tight ends in space, he's fast and physical enough to take on offensive lineman and bring down ball carriers.
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, listed as an outside linebacker, is the leader of the pass-rushers with a conference-high four sacks in the two games. At 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, Tupuola-Fetui is a unique blend of strength and explosiveness that's allowed him to thrive on third down.
The secondary is once again the strength of this unit, with eight passes defended and one interception on the season. Those number might seem low but not particularly considering Oregon State is a run-heavy unit and Arizona was just shutdown altogether.
If you throw out the fourth quarter of the Arizona game in which Washington was leading 37-0 and the starters were long gone, the Huskies have yet to give up a touchdown pass on the season. They've limited quarterbacks to just 135 yards passing and a completion percentage hovering around 50%.
Elijah Molden and Trent McDuffie are the stars and the next great Husky players in line to be playing on Sundays.
This is a team that could take down both Oregon and USC and win the Pac-12 championship, and nobody would be shocked. The defense is so fast, physical and opportunistic that it tends to make up for any shortcomings the offense has.
The key to stopping Washington is forcing Morris to make plays to win, a situation he's never been in before. Defensively, your only hope against this unit is keeping the Huskies off-balance with creative play-calling and not allowing them to settle into a rhythm and pin their ears back on third down.
It feels as if every time these two teams play, it's exciting and always comes down to the fourth quarter. Don't expect Saturday night to be any different.
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