Week five in the college football season, and the Utes are rolling! Last week, Utah did exactly what they needed to and came out with a great win in Ann Arbor, Mich. This week provides a slightly different challenge. The Cougars of Pullman are a high-powered, bi-polar football team. So far this year, they have been anywhere from a scoring juggernaut to the anemic Cougars. Last week, against the best team in the conference, they were impressive, trading score after score with the high-flying Ducks. There are no free passes in the Pac-12, and for head coach Kyle Whittingham's Utes, this week will be a strong test to open up league play.
Here are some things Utah will need to do to wake up on Sunday 4-0:
Washington State senior quarterback Connor Halliday is currently completing 61.8% percent of his passes, with 16 touchdowns. That means that WSU is going to score. Utah will need to do a good job at making adjustments and keeping their composure. I don't like to speak in absolutes, so let me say this. It is very unlikely that Utah will shut this team out. That's why it is imperative for the Utah defense to limit the big plays.
Halliday is not a running QB. In fact, his accuracy greatly decreases when he is on the move. Pressure will be key in disrupting the quick pass game of Mike Leach. The Utah D-line will need to stay disciplined and get their hands up if they can't get to Halliday.
What makes Halliday such a good QB is his football IQ. He knows where his passing lanes are everywhere on the field. Getting hands up in passing windows will make things uncomfortable for Halliday and when he is uncomfortable, he is prone to making a mistake.
Get in the Endzone:
As you have heard and read (especially here on BlockU), this WSU offense can put points up in a hurry. Travis Wilson and company will need to be up to scoring on every opportunity. Field goals are not going to cut it this week. The offense needs to find the endzone whenever possible. The good news is that they will have that opportunity against this Cougar defense. (The WSU defense is currently giving up 31 points per game. The opportunities will be there.)
Hackett and Phillips will need to continue their domination in the kicking game. Phillips, in particular, needs to continue with his ability to limit kick returns. Andy has greatly improved this part of his game. In fact, the one complaint Utah fans had about him last year was his short kickoffs. Now that Phillips has corrected this minor issue, he has made himself one of the biggest assets on this team. Hackett's abilities will go a long way in helping out this Utah defense. Pinning the Cougars deep in their own territory will go a long way in slowing down the Air Raid offense.
The Good Ole' Turnover Battle:
Halliday has currently thrown five interceptions this year. What we saw from the Utes last week shows that they are ready and able to make plays in the defensive backfield. When a team throws the ball as much as the Cougars do, they are bound to let some get away. Tevin Carter and Brian Blechen have got to continue to ball hawk and be aggressive.
Don't forget the Run!
Although WSU sits 126th in the nation at running the ball, they do have some capable backs. Utah will have to mind their assignments and stay disciplined. WSU has the tendency to be so pass heavy that defenses forget about the run and get gashed for big gains.
Utah has the chance to start 4-0 and open up conference play with a win, something the Utes haven't done since joining the Pac-12. If Utah can stay disciplined on defense and explosive on offense, Tonight could be the lead-in to their coming out party in the league. So get in your seats and don't forget your poncho. Tonight could be one heck of a ride.