We reached out to our colleague Kirk DeGrasse at UW Dawg Pound, the SB Nation site for the University of Washington Huskies to learn about Utah's upcoming opponent, the 4-4 (2-3 Pac-12) Washington Huskies. Utah despite being ranked No. 12 is a road underdog to the .500 Huskies. UW is coming off a 49-3 destruction of the Arizona Wildcats in Husky Stadium last Saturday. Utah is 0-8 all-time against the Huskies and are 0-2 since joining the Pac-12. This will be Utah's first game in Husky Stadium since 1979 (as the game in Seattle in 2012 was at CenturyLink Field). Most advanced statistical measures and Vegas give a slight edge to the Huskies, so we talked to DeGrasse to get his thoughts on the game.
BlockU: Utah and Washington have not played each other since 2012. How do Huskies fans see the Utes?
UW Dawg Pound: I think there's generally a great deal of respect for Utah and Coach Whittingham. They play football in a way that reminds many folks here of the glory days for the Huskies under Don James. While a few may still not give the Utes enough credit as they are the newcomers to the conference and have stumbled at times with that transition and others may look at the 8-0 record Washington has against Utah and take them for granted, I think most understand that this is a tough, well-coached program and beating them is something to really appreciate.
BlockU: UW is a young team, led by a true freshman quarterback in Jake Browning, how would you grade his performance so far this season?
UWDP: Well, there's two ways to look at it - how has he performed, and how has he performed relative to expectations. Objectively speaking he's just been OK so far - his QBR of 59.0 ranks 10th in the conference. That includes some really strong performances against Utah State and Arizona and some clunkers against Boise State, Cal & USC. The good news for Husky fans is he's coming off his best performance to date - against Arizona he looked a lot like the 4-star prospect we saw in his high school highlights: an accurate QB with great anticipation and touch and a really good decision-maker. When you consider that he's a true frosh there's a lot of reason for Husky fans to be excited about his future trajectory. He has a higher QBR and passer rating so far than Jared Goff did as a true frosh, and with a lot of youngsters around him that also figure to get a lot better Washington fans can be excused if they speak in lofty terms about how good he can become.
BlockU: This is a matchup between two of the best defenses in the Pac-12. How does Utah move the ball on the stout UW defense? What does the Utah defense have to worry about when the UW offense is out on the field? Do you believe the UW offense will be able to move the ball on Utah, and can Utah move the ball on UW?
UWDP: Washington's D hasn't shown much in the way of weaknesses. They have been stout against both the run and the pass and particularly good in the red zone in limiting points. One area that could be exploited is 3rd down conversions - while they rank 7th and 8th nationally (according to S&P) on 1st and 2nd downs, they rank only 46th on 3rd downs. They had some tackling issues vs. Boise State and Cal in wrapping up effectively, though that hasn't been an issue since. They haven't recovered a lot of fumbles so far on the season (which appears to be bad luck as they have forced 11 but only recovered 4), but they are still +3 in turnover margin thanks to 11 picks.
On the other side of the ball, Utah should feel fairly good about their chances to limit the Husky offense. This is a fairly young and inexperienced group and while they've had a few good games (Sacramento State, Utah State, Arizona), they've struggled more often than not. Since they are literally the slowest-paced offense in the country their counting stats make them look even worse than they are, but by yards per play they rank 8th in the conference - not great, but not quite as bad as you might think. If Utah can limit the Husky run game that should go a long way toward keeping Washington's offense in check and let the Utes pin their ears back in the pass rush against a young Husky OL.
BlockU: Are UW fans happy with Chris Petersen in his second season at UW?
UWDP: While there are a few outliers that think Petersen is just another Boise State coach that can't handle the big-time (a la Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins), most are happy with him and think he's building the program in the right way. He's a big change from Steve Sarkisian, and most feel he's a definite upgrade. His recruiting has been better than expected, and while there are some questions about his clock management and the development of the offense and OC Jonathan Smith, this looks like a program that could emerge as soon as next season as a conference title contender.
BlockU: Utah is an underdog in the game. Did that surprise you, and do you think UW deserves to be favored?
UWDP: I was a bit surprised by the line - I figured the betting public would look at the records for both teams and make Utah at least a 3 point favorite. But I can certainly understand it: both Jeff Sagarin and FEI see these teams as very closely matched, and S&P ranks Washington ahead of Utah. And less educated bettors probably put too much value in the historic success the Huskies have had in this series.
BlockU: How do you see the game playing out? Who wins?
UWDP: One would think this will be a slugfest featuring two very good defenses and offense coming at a premium. Washington has a bad habit of starting slow before coming on in the 2nd half, and there's no good reason to think that will change in this one. The big question is whether Utah can score early and put the Huskies on the defensive. I see the X-factor as being the quarterbacks - can Travis Wilson use his legs to extend plays, pick up big 3rd down conversions and most importantly, avoid costly picks? Can Browning build off the Arizona game and lead some early scoring drives to give the team a confidence boost? I'll use my purple glasses and say that turnovers and a big special teams play will tilt the game in favor of Washington as they notch a hard-fought 17-13 win.
BlockU: For Utah fans making the trip up to Seattle, what do you recommend for them to do?
UWDP: The weather is not looking great, but if you have the time for sight-seeing you should really check out the Pike Place Market, take the Underground Seattle tour and indulge yourself in some of the great seafood options available here. For the game itself, check into the Ivar's Husky Brunch Cruise (http://www.ivars.com/events/
I grew up in Seattle, and I can attest to all of Kirk's suggestions, especially the Ivar's Husky Brunch Cruise. It is an incredibly fun way to get to the game. Ivar's also has great food.
Thanks again Kirk for telling us a bit more about the Huskies. Be sure to check out UW Dawg Pound for all things Washington Huskies athletics coverage.