Utah Offensive Line vs Washington Defensive Line
Utah's offensive line took a big step forward in week 3 against BYU. After shaky outings against Montana State and USC, the group stepped up and delivered a solid performance against a very good front-7 from BYU. This week they'll be tested even further. Right Tackle Tony Bergstrom suffered an MCL sprain midway through the first quarter against BYU and remains questionable this week. I don't anticipate he'll play but if he does it will likely be in limited action. Left Tackle John Cullen played much better against BYU after missing the opener and struggling against USC. The line, even without Bergstrom, did not give up a sack against BYU.
The Huskies suffered a big loss on Saturday when sophomore Defensive End Hau'oli Jamora went down with a torn ACL against Cal. Jamora will miss the remainder of the season and his absence will definitely be felt. This loss weakens what has been an above-average defensive line so far this season already tallying six sacks through their first four games. Healthy Defensive End Everett Thompson will most-likely line up over the Right Tackle, either Tony Bergstrom or Percy Taumoelao. I believe this is a matchup that will be dictated totally by practice this week. If the two Utes split time during the week I'm not sure either will be completely ready to take on Thompson. Redshirt freshman Josh Shirley will line up at the other DE spot over John Cullen which should be a matchup that Cullen owns. Tackles Alameda Ta'amu and Sione Potoae are both very skilled and should be able to contain the run but don't anticipate a lot of pass pressure coming from either of them against the Utah Center and Guards.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Washington Linebackers
John White IV had his best game of the young season against BYU. White was held to just 9 rush yards in the first half, but broke loose in the second finishing the game with 174 yards on 22 carries scoring 3 times. On third down White has been good at picking up blitzes and giving Quarterback Jordan Wynn time to throw downfield. An ankle injury to backup Tauni Vakapuna will likely sideline the powerful runner, so expect freshman Harvey Langi to see some action in the backfield this week. The Utah Tight Ends continue to be a consistent target for Jordan Wynn. Kendrick Moeai, Dallin Rogers, and Jake Murphy combined to catch 8 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown against a very solid Cougar linebacking corps. Expect them yet again to play a pivotal role in this weekend's matchup.
Injuries have forced Washington to play a lot of bodies at linebacker. Fortunately for the Huskies, the replacements haven't shown much a drop-off. Expect to see John Timu, Princeton Fuimaono, and Salt Lake City native Cort Dennison as the starters. Reserve Garret Gilliland started against Cal last week and will likely see a lot of time as well. All three play the pass very well typically holding opposing Tight Ends to limited receptions. Their biggest weakness comes on the ground where they've given up a lot of yardage in their last two games. Utah's biggest advantage, if there is one against this group, is going to be on the ground. If White can consistently get to the second level against these linebackers, expect the pass game to open up and for the Tight Ends to make an impact. If White is kept in check the Tight Ends likely will be as well.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Washington Defensive Backs
Jordan Wynn continues to improve in each game he plays which is great news for Utah fans. His decision-making has been stellar; he has only thrown one interception through the first three games. His mechanics are still his biggest problem. His semi-sidearm delivery has resulted in a lot of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage causing his incompletion rate to be higher than he would like. Still, he is managing games effectively and isn't making drive-killing mistakes. The wide receiving group is also improving each game. They went from a dreadful 4 receptions in the opener to a combined 20 against USC. Their play against BYU softened the defense and allowed John White to run wild in the second half. Devonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, and Reggie Dunn all have big-play ability and demand a lot of attention from opposing defenses.
Washington's secondary is the weakest unit of their defense. After Desmond Trufant, the Husky secondary is average at best. Trufant has NFL talent and I expect him to match up with DeVonte Christopher all night to try and limit the Utes #1 receiver, which he is good enough to do. The rest of the Utah Wide Receivers, though, should have a major advantage. Quinton Richardson will likely start at the other corner position but will have a hard time matching up against Dres Anderson or Reggie Dunn. Greg Ducre and Anthony Goburn both saw playing time against Cal, but Ducre suffered a concussion which hurt an already struggling secondary. As a unit they surrendered 389 yards against Cal and will be challenged yet again this week.
Utah Defensive Line vs Washington Offensive Line
The defensive line, and the defense as a whole, played better than anticipated against BYU. The BYU offensive line featured big, heavy, experienced players that make up what some consider one of the best lines in the country. The Utah defense line was able to control the line of scrimmage, though, as the Utes dominated the Cougars. Star Lotulelei, Dave Kruger, and James Aiono controlled the middle while Derrick Shelby, Joe Kruger, and DE/OLB Trevor Reilly wreaked havoc all night. The defensive line scored the first touchdown of the night for the Utes when Derrick Shelby fell on a mishandled shotgun snap in the endzone.
The Husky offensive line is good enough to win games, but is very inexperienced in terms of age and number of starts. Senior Left Tackle Senio Kelemete and junior Center Drew Schaefer are the only starters older than sophomore. The lack of age has definitely reared its ugly head at times as the line has allowed 9 sacks through the first 4 games. They can still play very well in the run game, though. They helped Running Back Chris Polk rush for over 100 yards in each of the first three games, including 130 against a very highly-touted Nebraska defense. Joe Kruger will face off against Kelemete and may have his hands full, but on the other side, sophomore Right Tackle Erik Kohler could struggle against the very fast Derrick Shelby. Lotulelei, Kruger, and the Tackles should have success on the inside.
Utah Linebackers vs Washington Running Backs and Tight Ends
Utah's linebackers had a solid performance against BYU. Hybrid DE/OLB Trevor Reilly became Utah's first Pac-12 Player of the Week turning in a 2 sack, 3 TFL, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 pass breakup and 5 total tackle performance. Needless to say Reilly was everywhere. I anticipate he'll continue to get playing time after that performance joining Matt Martinez, Brian Blechen, and leading tackler Chaz Walker in the linebacker rotation. Backup linebacker V.J. Fehoko scored a touchdown for the linebackers off of a fumble scoop-and-score late in the fourth quarter to cap an impressive night for the group.
This group is absolutely the strength of this Washington team. Tailback Chris Polk and Tight End Austin Seferian-Jenkins are two of the best players at their respective positions in the conference. Polk is a powerful runner who isn't afraid to run between the tackles. He also possesses breakaway speed once he gets to the outside and he is fantastic receiving the ball out of the backfield. He is the complete package who regularly breaks the 100-yard threshold and poses a major threat to both the defensive line and linebackers. Seferian-Jenkins is an NFL talent at Tight End who is just starting to make a name for himself. He had 2 impressive first-half touchdown receptions against Cal last week and three touchdowns so far this year. It's not often a true freshman causes the problems he does, but his size and athleticism are rarely seen. At 6'6" 258lbs Seferian-Jenkins will give the Utah linebackers problems all night. Expect Blechen to face Seferian-Jenkins most of the night. His speed will give Utah the best matchup against Jenkins, but his size could prove to be a problem.
Utah Defensive Backs vs Washington Quarterback and Wide Receivers
The unit that entered the season with the most questions has answered just about all of them up to this point. Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy have proven themselves on the edges in all three games against quality competition and enter this contest with a lot of confidence. The Safety position, while a little less solidified, doesn't lack for talent. Keith McGill split time in the BYU game with Michael Walker and Quade Chappuis and all played extremely well. Every player in the defensive backfield has made big plays in their own right and there don't appear to be any glaring weaknesses in this group. No one in the Utah secondary has given up a big play yet, but that stat will certainly be tested this weekend.
Some wondered whether Jake Locker could be replaced, but those who doubted Keith Price before the season began I'm sure have quickly changed their tune. Price has opened eyes in and outside of Washington because of his athletic skills and pinpoint accuracy. He has very quick feet in the pocket, knows how to extend a play, and has fantastic arm strength allowing him to get the ball deep down field. He is a pocket passer but isn't afraid to run when he needs to. His ability to buy an extra few seconds often results in a big plays for the Huskies. On the outside Washington has a playmaking Wide Receiver in Jermaine Kearse. He is a big body with speed that will face up against Conroy Black all night. On the other side, Ryan Lacy will likely see Devin Aguilar. Both receivers are good but shouldn't be able to constantly beat the Utah Corners. Expect to see Black and Lacy in man-to-man coverage all night. Washington's primary playmakers are at RB (Polk) and TE (Seferian-Jenkins) and their pass game feeds off them. Utah will need to commit extra men to stop the run likely leaving the corners on islands for the better part of the night.
On The Field Matchups: Washington at Utah
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