Game of the Week: No. 4 Washington vs. No. 17 Utah
Every year at this point of the season, fans and analysts around the country begin to think they have an idea of how the season will unfold and who will make the college playoff. Then several miraculous upsets in the second half of the regular season catch the entire college football landscape off guard. Expectations are completely altered, paving the way for new teams to emerge into the playoff discussion.
The inevitable mayhem began last week when the then No. 2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes fell to Penn State. This game will likely be just one of many more critical upsets still to come before the end of the year. Things are going to get quite interesting before the regular season ends
There are still plenty of opportunities for others to move into the top four before the end of the regular season. No. 1 Alabama still has two tough tests on its schedule against LSU and Auburn; No. 2 Michigan still has its showdown against now No. 6 Ohio State in the regular season finale; No. 3 Clemson will have its biggest challenge yet this Saturday against No. 12 Florida State, and No. 4 Washington will be on the road this weekend at No. 17 Utah in an intriguing Pac-12 showdown.
With Ohio State’s loss last week, the Washington Huskies finally secured a top four ranking and now control their own destiny. Although they will be favored in each of their last five games, the rest of their schedule is no cakewalk. Utah is currently their biggest threat in the Pac-12, and both teams lead their respective divisions. Utah has a great opportunity to create another chaotic week of football and possibly dismantle Washington’s playoff hopes with an upset win at home.
Chris Petersen has proved himself to be an exceptional coach. Earlier in his career he transformed Boise State into a west coast powerhouse, leading them to two BCS Bowl wins and earning the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award in 2010. Now in this third season at Washington, he has continued his success and has the Huskies looking like legitimate playoff contenders. Surprisingly, this team may actually be the most equipped to go against Alabama, who appears to be unbeatable right now.
Quarterback Jake Browning leads one of the most balanced offenses in college football. Browning has evolved into one of the best quarterbacks in the game, yet he still seems to be under the radar. He leads all power five quarterbacks in touchdown passes (26) and passer rating (199.6) and has only thrown two interceptions thus far. Receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis are dangerous big play threats and have caught seventeen touchdown passes combined To complement an elite passing attack, Myles Gaskin leads the conference in rushing, while backup RB Lavon Coleman leads the nation at 8.5 yards per carry. This offense is at times almost impossible to stop because they can score in so many ways.
As for Washington’s defense, this stout unit is loaded with NFL talent and is currently ranked No. 14 in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense. Budda Baker and Sidney Jones are both potential first round draft picks and lead a secondary that is as formidable as any in college football. Washington also has a deep linebacker unit that might be just as good as its secondary. Azeem Victor has recorded 95 tackles this season, while Cory Littleton and Travis Feeny have combined for fourteen sacks. Elijah Qualls, Joe Mathis, and Vita Vea comprise an experienced and athletic defensive line that excels at applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
Utah’s Troy Williams is a viable dual threat quarterback, but he will need to play great in order to knock off his former school. He has played well, but turnovers have been an issue recently. It will be imperative for him to make a couple of big throws down the field and take care of the football, otherwise it could be a long night for the Utah offense. Williams has a deep receving corps at his disposal that includes Tim Patrick, Raelon Singleton, Cory Butler-Byrd. The Utes’ bread and butter on offense, however, has been the run game. Joe Williams, who retired earlier this season due to injuries, has returned and is better than ever. Against UCLA, Williams burst for 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Backup running backs Armand Shyne and Zack Moss each average almost five yards per carry and have been great supplements.
Utah’s defense has been one of the best in the Pac-12, entering this week ranked third in total defense. Lowell Lotulelei is a future NFL defensive tackle and anchors an excellent defensive line for the Utes. However, this defense has struggled a bit recently with big plays, particularly through the air. Last week against UCLA, they gave up 464 passing yards to their backup quarterback. They are currently a bit depleted in the secondary, but that does not bode well against a highly potent Washington passing attack. A key matchup to watch will be in the trenches. Washington has a terrific offensive line, and if Utah’s defensive front can’t put pressure on Jake Browning, he could have another huge game.
Utah has been an under the radar team all year and will be looking to curtail Washington’s college football playoff aspirations. The Huskies, however, are undoubtedly one of the nation’s best, and now that they have climbed into the top 4, they will be looking to make a statement to the rest of the country. Salt Lake City is a tough place to play and Utah has the personnel to keep this game close. But at the end of the day Washington will make enough plays on both sides of the ball to get the job done. The Huskies will establish the run game immediately to open up the passing game, and the defense will create a couple of turnovers helping them cruise to a big win on the road.
Prediction: Washington 45, Utah 20
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org .