@ Utah Utes
Saturday, Oct 1, 2011, 5:00 PM MDT
TV: Root (Fox Sports)
Radio: ESPN 700
This Saturday marks the first time in program history Utah will host a Pac-12 conference game. Their opponent, Washington, is a team the Utes have never defeated, owning an all-time record of 0-6 - though these two teams last met over 30 years ago.
Saturday's contest will be important for both programs, as Utah looks to claim its first conference victory of the season and the Huskies their second - Washington defeated Cal Saturday 31-23.
The Utes, of course, are coming off a bye week, but prior to their break, easily dispatched of their rival BYU 54-10 in a rare rout between the two. It was a much-needed boost of confidence after Utah dropped their conference opener on the road to SC.
It's also very likely a must-win for the Utes if they are going to win the Pac-12 South, as, last Saturday, division rival Arizona State received a leg up in the division race with a solid victory over the Trojans at home.
It won't be an easy task, though, as the Huskies enter the game with an improving offense that averages 34 points per game and finished last week's game against the Golden Bears with 409 total yards of offense - 292 through the air and 117 on the ground.
That offense is led by sophomore quarterback Keith Price, whose 246 passing yards per game ranks eighth in the conference. Price's performance Saturday was extremely effective, as he threw for three touchdowns, completed 76 percent of his passes and made it through the game without throwing an interception.
The Huskies also rely on the solid running game of Chris Polk, who averages just a shade over 100 yards on the season. Against Cal, however, he only ran for 57 yards, though he did manage a touchdown.
Where Washington has struggled this season is on the defensive side of the ball. They give up, on average, 33 points per game - only Arizona performs worse in the conference. Their opponents also average 453 yards per game, again only Arizona has a worse number.
That might suggest this game could turn into a high scoring affair. Of course, that's if the Utes continue their improvement on offense, as, prior to their outburst against the Cougars, Utah had struggled at producing points and yards. In fact, even accounting for their 481 yards in that game, the Utes still rank dead last in the conference in yards per game.
If Utah is going to contend for the Pac-12 title, or even division, it's going to require a dramatic uptick in that statistic.
Against a team like Washington, who's allowing over 450 yards per game, there really is no excuse for not having an improvement. In fact, anything less than 400 yards Saturday should be cause for concern.
Of course, this team isn't an offensive juggernaut and it's clear they rely on their defense a bit more than most Pac-12 teams. In fact, they might have, overall, the best defense in the conference.
Still, the offense needs to pull out of the cellar if they're going to do anything positive in Pac-12 play.
That should continue this weekend against Washington and their suspect defense.
Utah wins if...The offense continues its improvement and does to Washington as most teams already have - namely move the ball at will. The Utes' defense will also need to step it up and defend in the secondary better than they have this season, as Price can be a baller.
Washington wins if...Utah's defense struggles in the passing game and the offense reverts to its old predictable ways.
What should happen...The Huskies are a flawed team and I look for Utah to take advantage of those flaws. Unfortunately, I'm still not convinced the Utes can run away in this one. It will be tight throughout and I expect Washington to move the ball quite a bit on Utah. At the same time, I expect the same out of the Utes - as this is by far the most questionable defense they've played this season. It will be close, but Utah wins narrowly 24-21.
What are your predictions?