Utah begins Pac-12 play in week three in a late-night matchup against northern division heavyweight, Washington. Helmed by Chris Petersen, entering his fifth year with the Huskies, and starring senior phenoms Jake Browning (QB) and Myles Gaskin (RB), the Utes will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak against the Huskies and establish themselves as a legitimate contender in the race for the Pac-12 title.
Leading a crop of mostly veteran talent is senior quarterback Jake Browning. After an impressive 2016 campaign that ended with the final seed in the College Football Playoff, Browning’s numbers dipped dramatically in 2017, passing for only 19 touchdowns and 2,544 yards, compared to 43 TD’s and 3,430 yards the previous season. Browning will look to fellow senior WR Chico McClatcher, who missed the majority of 2017 with a leg injury, as well as highly-touted freshman receiver Marquis Spiker to help re-establish the passing game.
The uncertainty at WR is only made worse when considering a possible season-altering injury for projected starting TE Hunter Bryant.
Bryant, whose freshman campaign was cut short after a partial ACL tear against UCLA, amassed 22 receptions (third highest) and 331 yards (second highest) despite missing the final five games. The budding star struck panic in the hearts of Husky faithful last month when the Seattle Times reported on a since-deleted post on his Instagram that showed his leg propped and immobilized along with the caption “the saddest thing is I can’t hoop for 9 months” followed by a series of crying emojis. Chris Petersen later confirmed during Pac-12 media days that Bryant had indeed reinjured his ACL and was considering redshirting the star tight end for the season.
Rounding off the two-headed beast that is Washington’s offense is senior Myles Gaskin. As one of the most efficient running-backs in the Pac-12, Utah’s typically stout defensive line will be tested, but if history is any indication, this may be a battle that favors the Utes. In last season’s matchup, Utah held Gaskin to a mere 52 rushing yards on 17 carries, his second lowest of the season (the first being a demolishing win against Montana where he only attempted 9 carries).
Finally, the offensive line returns a slew of familiar stars, including All Pac-12 first team members left tackle Trey Adams and right tack Kaleb McGary. The biggest question is if Adams will be able to return to full strength after sustaining a right knee injury late last season. At 6’8” and 331 lbs, he’s a headache for defensive ends, and if he’s able to give Browning extra time in the pocket, it will only help the relatively inexperienced receiving corps find their groove.
With a mixed bag of proven talent and a hanful of question marks, the Washington offense can’t be overlooked, but drawing them early in the season could be beneficial for a Utes squad looking to establish themselves as a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 crown.