The loss of former defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch was just one of many storylines that emerged out of Pullman at the end of last season. Grinch had turned around one of the most defensively inept programs in the nation in his short time at Washington State, and while is absence is certainly noticeable, his replacement, Tracy Claeys has filled the void left by Grinch nicely. Despite Wazzu’s early success, Utah will have plenty of opportunities to exploit the Cougars’ deficiencies and get the offense rolling.
Senior linebacker, Peyton Pelluer is back for the Cougars after missing the majority of 2017 with an injury. His presence has been felt from the start, once again becoming one of the team’s top tacklers, amassing an impressive 12 total tackles against USC along with a sack. Pelluer has an NFL-ready skill set and at 6’0”, 230 lbs, he has the potential to disrupt Utah’s already shaky offense the same way NIU’s Sutton Smith did earlier in the season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Cougars so far has been the production of sophomore safety, Skyler Thomas. Having already racked up 29 total tackles (with 15 of those being solo efforts) in his first season as a starter, he’s been a valuable asset for Washington State, showing an ability to prevent big plays after the catch.
The Utes should be able to capitalize on Washington State’s biggest weakness: their inability to stop the run. On paper, the Cougars have the 16th best rush defense in the nation, but without the San Jose State game in week two, the Cougars have allowed well over three yards on average per rush (3.6 against Wyoming, 4.1 against Eastern Washington and 3.6 against USC). With Utah’s talented stable of running backs, and especially Zach Moss, exploiting this weakness is crucial.
While their rush defense is questionable, the WSU has shown a knack for turning the ball over in their favor. With five interceptions from five different players and three forced fumbles, Utah will need to make ball security a number one priority going into Saturday’s match-up.
Fresh off the bye week, the Utes should be well rested and ready to show the offense is capable of generating something. Washington State is far from a push over, but their weaknesses might just be enough to give Utah’s offense a chance to get things clicking.