The No.13 Utah Utes head north to Husky Stadium on Saturday to take on the Washington Huskies. The Huskies are currently 4-4 overall 2-3 in conference and a 1.5 favorite over the Utes on Saturday. Chris Peterson is in his second season at Washington after going 92-12 in eight seasons as the head coach at Boise State. Today we'll preview the offense for the Huskies coordinated by former Oregon State quarterback and 2001 Fiesta bowl MVP, Jonathan Smith.
Prior to Washington's 49 point outburst on Saturday, the Washington offense had not been very explosive, ranking near the bottom of the conference in rush yards, pass yards and yards per game this season. As far as scoring offense, the Huskies rank 11th in conference with 27.1 points per game. They are sandwiched between Colorado right above them at 29.9 points per game and Oregon State quite a ways below them averaging just 19.4 points per game. At Husky Stadium the Husky offense fares quite a bit better, averaging 34.6 points per game.
The Huskies are pretty balanced offensively but do rank slightly higher in passing, ranking eighth in conference at 218 yards per game. Their rushing attack ranks only above Washington State in conference, at 132.13 yards per game. The Huskies are currently converting a little over a third of third down conversions at 35.7 % and score 88% of the time they reach the redzone. While Washington is not an offense that will blow the doors off the other team, they are a young group that is rapidly improving. As last week's game against Arizona proved, when everything is clicking, they can be as potent as anyone else in the conference.
The Huskies offense is led by a true freshman quarterback in Jake Browning. The 6-2 206 lb. freshman isn’t the most physically gifted or imposing quarterback in the conference, but has been compared to former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. Like Moore, Browning has an extremely high football IQ and competitive spirit. Browning is the first true freshman to ever begin a season as starting quarterback for the University of Washington, and despite showing his inexperience early, Browning has consistently improved throughout the course of the season.
Browning's completion percentage has increased throughout the course of the season, as has his quarterback rating. The only game in which the Huskies lost by more than six points was against Stanford, which also happens to be the only game Browning did not play in, sitting out due to injury. Browning has looked more and more comfortable as the season has progressed and is beginning to take on the look of a veteran, as his freshman season gets closer to its end. Browning plays better in the confines of Husky Stadium, his two lowest quarterback ratings coming on the road at Boise and USC. Browning should be brimming with confidence, heading into Saturday night's contest coming off his best game thus far, throwing for 263 yards, four touchdowns, no turnovers and completing 66.7% of his passes against Arizona.
Washington is led in the rushing attack by another freshman, Myles Gaskin. At 5-9 192 lbs. Gaskin is small in stature, but packs a punch in the running game. Gaskin is a patient runner who will wait for a seam and then explode through the line for big yardage. He won’t run many people over, but is surprisingly tough and fights for extra yards after contact. Gaskin’s breakout performance came against USC in the Coliseum where he burst onto the scene with 134 yards rushing and a touchdown in Washington’s 17-12 upset over the Trojans. Since that performance, Gaskin has rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown against both Oregon and Stanford before only seeing 11 carries in Washington’s blowout of Arizona on Saturday.
Dwayne Washington will spell Gaskin at running back. Washington, a junior, was actually supposed to be the Huskies bell cow this season, but the emergence of Gaskin has pushed him into a supporting role. Washington is built a little bit differently than Gaskin, at 6-2 226 lbs. Washington is still a tough back to bring down in his own right and has four touchdowns this season, including a 69 yard scamper against the Wildcats last weekend.
Jaydon Mickens is the veteran leader of the receiving corps. The 5-11 170 lb. senior receiver has speed to burn, and is often used on bubble screens or on fly sweeps. Mickens is shifty and has great acceleration making him dangerous in the open field.
Dante Pettis is another receiver with speed for the Huskies. The 6-0 185 lb. sophomore is the younger cousin of Austin Pettis who played for Peterson at Boise State and currently plays for the St. Louis Rams. Pettis can be a deep threat and caught his first touchdown pass of the year last week against Arizona on a 31 yard strike from Browning.
Josh Perkins is the Husky tight end and is a big target at 6-4 226 lbs. Perkins leads the team in receiving yards with 322 and has two touchdowns on the year. Dwayne Washington also gets involved in the receiving game for the Huskies, as he is second on the team in receiving yards with 307 and leads the team in touchdown receptions with three.
Washington is a young, improving offense that plays it's best ball on it's home field. Playing the game in Seattle against a tough Utah defense will help the Huskies. If this game were played in Rice-Eccles, Browning would have a much tougher time managing the offense as evidenced in his home vs. away stats. Even with this advantage, I don't foresee Washington being able to score a lot of points.
Utah still has the no. 1 rush defense in the Pac-12, allowing 113.13 yards per game total. The interior players on Utah defensive line such as Lowell Lotuleilei, Filipo Mokofisi and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu should be able to generate a good push against an inexperienced and unsettled Husky offensive line. Excluding last week's game against a soft Arizona Wildcat defense, Gaskin has been the only consistent playmaker for the Washington offense. Jared Norris and Gionni Paul will be two of the best linebackers the Huskies have had to run against. If the Utes can bottle Gaskin up and force Browning to win the game with his arm, Utah's odds of winning will greatly increase. Browning has shown he has the talent and ability to lead the Huskies to a victory with his arm, but as a freshman, he has yet to string two really good games together.
Looking at Washington's previous opponents, USC and Stanford have the most similar defenses to Utah. Browning was out for the Stanford game, which alters the picture, though the Huskies struggled on offense. Against USC, the Huskies struggled as well, but were able to generate more offense than the Trojans. One thing for the Utah defense to be aware of is the trick play. Peterson has a history of using trick plays and was able to score the go ahead touchdown against USC on a wide receiver pass.
Overall I think the Utah defense will have a decent day against Washington's offense. The Huskies will score some points, but the defense will give the Utah offense every opportunity to win the game. Whether or not the offense can deliver against Washington's top rated defense is something we'll examine later this week.