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Opponent Preview: Washington State Defense

NCAA Football: Washington State at Utah Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The 1-2 Utes are off to a shaky start. Losses to BYU and Mountain West competition haven’t happened often in the PAC-12 era, let alone in back-to-back weeks. Utah’s offense struggled mightily for the majority of non-conference play, something that was unexpected considering the vast collection of talent the Utes had collected in their for PAC-12 supremacy. On paper, the addition of former Baylor standout Charlie Brewer at quarterback, combined with an experienced pool of receivers and tight ends, and a stable of big, bruising running backs was a recipe for success, and the reports from camp seemed to corroborate this. Hell, even the spring scrimmage had fans speculating about how good this offense could be, with Brewer looking nearly perfect against a top-tier Utes defense. Alas, three games in and the offense fans had been dreaming of failed to arrive for game day and panic has set in. Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon.

It’s hard to deny the offensive spark that was ignited when Cam Rising took the reigns from Brewer early in the third quarter last weekend in San Diego. Yes, the Utes still lost, but Rising helped to erase a two-touchdown deficit with ease and looked just as sharp in overtime. Brewer has since decided to part ways with the team, and Rising is now the man going forward. He’ll be behind a young, inexperienced, and porous offensive line, but his mobility opens up the field a little more and takes some of the pressure off the o-line as they continue to gel, but that all gets a little less daunting when one of the PAC-12’s worst defenses rolls into town.

Washington State ranks 107th in total defense, tied with Ball State, and besting only Cal within conference rankings. Giving up 5.64 yards per play and 436 yards per game, all while allowing 11 touchdowns bodes well for a Utah offense still trying to establish an identity, but that’s not to say Ute fans should expect an easy win come Saturday afternoon.

Senior linebacker, Jahad Woods (6’1”, 225 lbs) is a proven commodity who has recorded 1.5 sacks, 36 tackles, and an interception in his four games against the Utes, dating back to 2017. Woods currently leads the Cougars with 23 total tackles, far surpassing defensive end Ron Stone Jr.’s (6’3”, 240 lbs) 14 total tackles in second place. Senior MIKE linebacker, Justus Rogers has also been disruptive in his career against Utah, forcing a fumble in last year’s loss, and recording two sacks, both of which in his redshirt freshman season in 2017. Needless to say, the Utes should be very familiar with Wazzu’s defensive stars, but there is something of a secret weapon that could prove difficult for the Utes.

True freshman edge rusher, Andrew Edson (6’4”, 230 lbs) wasn’t even listed on WSU’s depth chart to start the season, but after two weeks of impressive play in limited snaps, the rising star is now backing up Woods and is likely to see increased field time. Edson caught the attention of the PAC-12 when his explosive sack against USC’s Kedon Slovis sidelined the veteran arm, leaving Utah native Jaxson Dart to lead the Trojans to victory. Along with the first quarter sack, the freshman recorded three tackles for loss against the men of Troy in his backup role and will be looking to continue adding to his growing resume against a vulnerable Utah offensive line.

Fans should consider this the ultimate litmus test for what to expect in conference play. Wazzu has enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to make things tough for Utah, but they’re susceptible enough for Utah to work out their growing pains before their bye week. A PAC-12 championship run will either start this Saturday or be a foregone conclusion depending upon how the offense rebounds with Rising.