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Utah opponent preview: Washington’s Offense

NCAA Football: North Dakota at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes open conference play this Saturday as they welcome Chris Peterson and the #10 Washington Huskies in a highly anticipated PAC-12 showdown that has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the season for both teams.

Much like Utah, the Washington offense has shown a great deal of potential through the first two weeks but has sputtered out in crucial moments. Prior to the start of the season, Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin were viewed as one of the best quarterback/running back duos in the nation, poised to lead their team all the way through the College Football Playoff, but after a week one loss to Auburn and a largely uninspiring win again North Dakota the following week, a lot of the excitement around the Huskies offensive stars has fizzled.

Browning himself hasn’t necessarily looked bad in his first two games, completing 59.4% of his passes while averaging 304.5 yards through the air. The biggest area of concern for the senior is his three interceptions, a conference leading number, and a meager three touchdowns to match. For comparison, Browning threw five interceptions in all of 2017 and didn’t hit three INTs until week five against Oregon State, and managed four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown through his first two games of the season (although against admittedly lesser talent; Rutgers and Montana). Considering Browning’s veteran status and elite capabilities, his performance through two weeks has been nothing short of lackluster.

The second half of Washington’s offense, senior Myles Gaskin has been largely held in check up to this point, gaining 128 yards on 32 carries, good for an average of 4 yards per carry and one touchdown. Again, these aren’t terrible numbers through two games, but Gaskin is trailing ten PAC-12 running backs in terms of total yards including UCLA freshman Kazmeir Allen (145 yards on 15 carries), Oregon freshman CJ Verdell (157 yards on 24 carries) and Oregon State freshman Jermar Jefferson (285 yards on 30 carries, currently leading the PAC-12) among others.

Compounding Washington’s offensive woes has been shockingly middling offensive line play. Expected to be one of the best o-lines in the nation prior to the start of the season, Browning has been sacked five times and has struggled outside of the pocket. The loss of projected starter senior Trey Adams is a likely cause of some of the troubles for the Huskies after a pre-season back injury has sidelined the star once again, just months after recovering from a torn ACL that forced him to miss the final half of the 2017 season.

One bright spot for Washington has been junior receiver Aaron Fuller. Reeling in a team high 13 receptions for 209 yards, his production has helped ease the loss of All-American receiver Dante Pettis. With a knack for big, deep plays, he’ll likely give Utah’s secondary plenty of headaches if his connection with Browning stays solid through week three.

Despite early struggles, Washington’s offense is still respectable and will put of a fight against a stout Utah defense. Keeping pressure on Browning will be crucial if the Utes hope to upset the Huskies and walk away undefeated.