Washington State at Utah
Saturday, Nov. 11
Salt Lake City, Utah
The Washington State Cougars have a penchant for three things: losing to FCS teams in week one, throwing the ball a ton, and cause fits for the Utah defense. WSU is a matchup nightmare for Utah. Their air raid offense has presented problems every time the Utes have faced them except in head coach Mike Leach’s first season at WSU in 2012. Because of WSU’s wide offensive line splits and short to intermediate passing game with quick passes, Utah’s defensive line, a huge strength for the team, is rendered less effective. Utah also has to replace four of their starters in the secondary from last season, so the new group will be tested heavily in this game. While the Cougars ran the ball more last season, they still were dead last in the nation in attempts per game. Instead of running the ball, Washington State uses short passes in their offense to approximate running the ball.
WSU returns a lot of talent on offense. The headliner is quarterback Luke Falk. Falk is one of the better quarterback in the conference and is an ideal quarterback for Leach’s offense. James Williams, Jamal Morrow, who is on the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list, and Gerard Wicks, WSU’s top three rushers, are all back. WSU, despite losing two of their top three pass catchers, will be fine at wide receiver, even without Gabe Marks and River Cracraft. Leach’s system allows for wide receivers to just be plugged in, and the three aforementioned running backs are also a huge part of the passing game. Tavares Martin Jr., Robert Lewis, Kyle Sweet, and Isaiah Johnson-Mack are all back at wide receiver and will likely carry the load at the position. WSU has talent on the offensive line as well, led by All-American guard Cody O’Connell. Left tackle Andre Dillard and right tackle Cole Madison are also back.
On defense, the Cougars are improving and were in the top 30 in the nation and third in the Pac-12 in rushing defense last season. This makes sense with the talent they have at defensive line with Hercules Mata’afa and linebacker with Payton Pueller, who was fourth in the Pac-12 last season with 93 tackles. With those two back, WSU should be tough against the run yet again in 2017. They were not as stout against the pass last season however, ranking ninth in the Pac-12. They lose their best defensive back, nickel back Shalom Luani, from last season. There are experienced players who could step in though like Darrien Molton and Jalen Thompson.
Basically, WSU’s offensive and defensive strength coincides negatively with how Utah wants to play football. On offense, Utah historically runs the football far better than they throw it (though that should hopefully change this year), and on defense, Utah wants to stop the run and terrorize the quarterback, which is tough against WSU. Because they present such a matchup problem and have a lot of talent back, this game, despite being at home, will be quite tough for the Utes. The complete overhaul of the secondary and offensive line create some preseason question marks for the Utes that will play a big role against the Cougars. Given Utah’s past struggles against WSU and the question marks, this is a game that looks very difficult for Utah on paper.
Toughest Games in 2017 Countdown