On Sept. 27, Washington State head coach Mike Leach brings his Cougars and Air Raid offense into Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah will be seeking some payback after last season's 49-37 loss in Pullman, Wash.
In three season in the Pac-12, Utah is 2-1 against WSU (1-0 in SLC, 1-1 in Pullman). Leach has yet to beat Utah in Rice-Eccles, but he returns to Salt Lake City this season with some firepower, including quarterback Connor Halliday. Halliday, one of the top returning signal callers in the conference, completed 39 of 62 passes for 488 yards and four touchdowns in last season's game. Utah was without starting quarterback Travis Wilson, out due to a pre-existing medical condition discovered during a concussion examination. Wilson, of course, has since been medically cleared to return to the gridiron.
Last season, WSU ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in total offense at 421.4 yards per game and in scoring at 31 points per game, but the Air Raid ranked second in passing yards per game at 368. Utah's rebuilding secondary will need to be more stout against a team that can throw the ball 60+ times a game.
According to Jeff Nusser of CougCenter.com, the Wazzu offense could be very good again this season, but the offensive line is a question mark.
"They're real young," Nusser said, "but they're probably more athletic than they've been in six or seven years. If the line can hold up, the offense should be very prolific, more so than it was last year."
Wazzu likes to run four-wide sets, and their top eight receivers return this season. Keep a watchful eye on wide receivers Gabe Marks (74 catches for 807 yards in 2013) and Vince Mayle (42 receptions for 539 yards).
On the other side of the ball, Washington State replaces its entire secondary, including All-Pac-12 strong safety Deone Bucannon. If Utah's quarterback (whether that be Wilson or another) has time to throw the ball this season, the Utes should be able to test the second level of the WSU defense. That should be good news for Biletnikoff Award candidate Dres Anderson.
In 2013, WSU ranked near the bottom in all defensive categories. The Cougars were 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense, giving up 458 yards per game, as well as 10th in scoring defense, yielding 32.5 points per game. Ironically, as good as Wazzu's passing attack is, their passing defense is equally bad, ranking 11th in the conference, surrendering 270.8 yards per game through the air.
Utes fans should keep an eye on stud defensive tackle Xavier Cooper (6-4, 298) and linebacker Darryl Monroe (6-1, 230).
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Who wins the Sept. 27 clash in Rice-Eccles Stadium?
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