Homecoming weekend, the Utes take the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium as the sky dumps rain upon a sold-out crowd, packed in for an 8:00 kickoff. The rain doesn’t deter the Washington State air raid, as Mike Leach’s offense throws for 417 yards, finding the endzone four times, and keeping the ball on the ground for only 25 carries, totaling 78 yards. No, this isn’t a prediction, this was exactly what occurred on September 28th, 2014 when the Utes lost to the Cougars 28-27 after running up a 21-0 first quarter lead. As fate would have it, five years and one day later, Utah and Washington State will face off under identical circumstances.
If the 2014 matchup taught us anything, it’s that rain or shine, WSU’s offense will do what they do best…pass the ball, and while the roster and portions of the coaching staff are entirely different, the pass-heavy mentality remains, and with a nation leading 1,894 yards and a 74.9% completion rating, senior quarterback Anthony Gordon will undoubtedly be the star of the Cougars offense Saturday night.
Through only four games, Gordon has thrown for 21 touchdowns (nine of those coming in last week’s 67-63 dramatic come-from-behind upset against the previously winless UCLA Bruins), with just four interceptions to his name. He’s assisted by an arsenal of veteran receivers, including seniors Brandon Arconado, Easop Winston Jr., and Dezmon Patmon. The trio have posted nearly identical stat lines, with Arconado leading the team in yards (352 yards on 25 receptions), while Winston has accumulated a team high 26 catches for 348 yards, with Patmon bringing up the rear statistically, accounting for 290 yards on 17 receptions. Five additional players have caught at least ten passes, culminating in an additional 943 yards from the main receiving core.
The biggest difference between the 2019 Cougars and their 2014 counterpart comes in the form of sophomore running back, Max Borghi. Averaging 81.25 yards per game, Borghi is a massive upgrade from 2014’s Gerard Wicks, whose 56 rushing yards against the Utes was a season-high mark for the then freshman.
After last week’s disappointing collapse against USC, Utah’s secondary will be presented with an opportunity to prove they’re the elite unit that was championed throughout Spring and Fall camp. Since joining the PAC-12, the Utes have struggled to defend the air raid offense, but if the team hopes to keep their Rose Bowl aspirations alive, grounding Leach’s pass-heavy approach is necessary.