Unit Matchups - Utah at Washington State

Will Marquess Wilson and Connor Halliday be too much for the Utah Secondary? Our Unit Matchups break down Saturday's game between Utah and Washington State.

Utah Offensive Line vs Washington State Defensive Line

Utah Offensive Line

The offensive line maybe more than any other position on a football team is one that thrives on chemistry and consistency. Utah had a different starter on the line in five of their first seven games. As a result, the players up front failed to really develop and gel together and didn't gain that chemistry that is so important to have. Since Utah's winning streak began against Oregon State three weeks ago the Utes have played the same starting five and the results have been very clear. Look for John Cullen, Miles Mason, Tevita Stevens, Sam Brenner, and Tony Bergstrom to be the guys again up front this week against Washington State and expect more of the same results in both the running and passing games.

Washington State Defensive Line

Keep an eye out for Washington State defensive end Travis Long. Long has been a mainstay on the Cougar line for years and Saturday's game against Utah will be his 35th consecutive start. Long is 7th on the team in tackles this season and 1st in tackles for loss and sacks. Utah left tackle John Cullen will have the opportunity of matching up against Long and he'll have his work cut out for him. Defensive tackles Brandon Rankin and Anthony Laurenzi are both good at getting pressure up the middle and making tackles in the backfield but neither are absolute game-changers. Left end Lenard Williams sprained his knee against Arizona State and will likely miss the game on Saturday; he'll be replaced by Adam Coerper who shouldn't be much trouble for Tony Bergstrom.

EDGE: Utah

Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Washington State Linebackers

Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends

Not much can be said about Utah running back John White that hasn't already been said. In his first season with the team White has already rushed for 1191 yards and 12 touchdowns. White is just 316 yards behind Carl Monroe for Utah's all-time single-season rushing record of 1,507 yards set in 1982 and could break the record if he averages just 106 yards per game in Utah's final three outings including the bowl game. At tight end both Jake Murphy and Kendrick Moeai failed to catch a pass against UCLA and neither have been a major threat in the offense all season. Their run-blocking when in the lineup has been good, however, so their contributions to the offense may be unnoticed but are still significant.

Washington State Linebackers

Middle linebacker C.J. Mizell plans to return to action after missing his first and only game last week with a bruised shoulder. Mizell is third on the team in tackles, has 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Think those stats are impressive? Outside linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis disagrees. Hoffman-Ellis leads the Cougars in tackles, has a whopping 8 tackles for loss, an interception, and 2 sacks. Mizell and Hoffman-Ellis love to make plays from the linebacker position and will be key players in Washington State's attempt to slow down John White. Sekope Kaufusi will take pass coverage responsibility when required in order to free up Mizell and Hoffman-Ellis against the run. Kaufusi is athletic enough to cover and shut-down both Utah tight ends.

EDGE: Even

Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Washington State Corners and Safeties

Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers

Quarterback Jon Hays has averaged just 7.6 completions and 109 yards per game during Utah's current 3-game win streak. Those numbers certainly aren't enough to beat opponents by themselves and they won't earn Hays a whole lot of defensive respect, but for a team that has embraced its role as a run-first group they're just enough to back up the defenses and take pressure off of the run. Hays hasn't thrown an interception since October 22nd and has learned to make smarter decisions rather than force plays. The receivers may feel a little under-utilized through the air, but their presence in the run game has been crucial to Utah's recent success. The blocking from the wideouts has been magnificent and has allowed John White to extend many runs deep into the secondary. Devonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, and Reggie Dunn are always deep threats when the defense commits too heavily to the run.

Washington State Corners and Safeties

Don't expect DeVonte Christopher to have a banner day against the Cougars. Christopher will be matched up against one of the Pac-12's best cover corners in Damante Horton who has been very good at defending receivers this season. Horton has 4 interceptions and 3 pass breakups on the year and has also forced two fumbles. He's the playmaker in the Cougar secondary that Hays will need to stay away from if he wants to avoid game-changing turnovers. Similar to Horton, strong safety Deone Buchannon is a ball-hawk in the defensive backfield. His 3 interceptions are second on the team behind Horton while his 4 pass breakups, 69 tackles, and 2 tackles for loss are all tops in the Cougar secondary. Free safety Tyree Toomer and corner Nolan Washington are above average defenders against the pass.

EDGE: Even

Utah Defensive Line vs Washington State Offensive Line

Utah Defensive Line

Star Lotulelei and the Ute defensive line continue to do their job very effectively each week. Last Saturday the unit faced a tricky offense that averaged over 190 rushing yards per game, but just like they've done all year the front four dominated the line of scrimmage and shut down what the opponents did best. Tevita Finau rotated with Joe Kruger at right defensive end which was very effective against the UCLA pistol. Finau is very athletic for his size and he did a great job of turning a lot of the run plays inside rather than let them get around the edge. This allowed Lotulelei to do work in the middle where he led the line with 7 tackles and a half tackle for loss. Derrick Shelby has played solid but quiet football recently but is the type of player who has breakout ability that can appear at any time.

Washington State Offensive Line

Washington State has started the same offensive linemen for 7 consecutive games. This has allowed the starters to build chemistry similar to what was described with the Utah line, and that chemistry has been most evident in their passing game where they've been able to throw for almost 240 yards per game and 8 touchdowns over those 7 weeks including Saturday's 494-yard 4-touchdown explosion against Arizona State. Extended protection has been the biggest issue with this unit as they've given up 20 sacks over that same period. Their troubles may be magnified against a stellar Ute opposing line that has the ability to exploit weakness at every position. Utah's combination of speed-rushers and run-stoppers should give them a marked advantage up front on Saturday.

EDGE: Utah

Utah Linebackers vs Washington State Running Backs and Tight Ends

Utah Linebackers

The race to be Utah's leading tackler has very quickly become a runaway. Though he doesn't lead in any other defensive stat category, Chaz Walkers 82 tackles are 20 more than the next closest Utah defender. His 33 solo tackles are impressive, but his 49 assisted tackles are even more special because it shows just how often he is around the football. Even when another Ute defender is in position to make a play, Chaz's determination to never give up makes him one of Utah's most influential and important defensive players. I believe Walker's play has made others around him better. The combination of Walker, Matt Martinez, and Trevor Reilly continues to give Utah a great combination of run and pass defense against all sorts of offensive schemes.

Washington State Running Backs and Tight Ends

If you haven't seen the stats then don't be fooled, it wasn't Washington State's running game that made the difference in last week's win over Arizona State. While running backs Carl Winston and Rickey Galvin do a good job in split time for WSU it's the passing game that drives the Cougar offense. Winston will likely get the starting nod but Galvin will see plenty of action in this running back-by-committee backfield. Over the last 5 weeks the two backs have combined to average just 87 yards per game, a number that won't get much better against Utah's run defense. With weapons like Marquess Wilson, Isiah Barton, and Jared Karstetter at wide receiver, tight end Andrei Lintz doesn't see many passes come his way in this offense.

EDGE: Utah

Utah Corners and Safeties vs Washington State Quarterback and Wide Receivers

Utah Corners and Safeties

Conroy Black AKA the Silent Assassin has really emerged as Utah's premier corner over the last few weeks. After a very quiet, almost silent (but extremely effective) first 8 games Black has exploded in the last two. In two weeks he has collected three interceptions, returned one 67 yards for a touchdown, nearly took a second one back 101 yards if not for better running, and has absolutely locked-down receivers on his side of the field. His matchup this week against Marquess Wilson, arguably the Pac-12's best receiver, should be fascinating. Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen may be the two smartest safeties in the league. There isn't much an offense can throw at these two that confuses them or gets them out of position. Ryan Lacy and Mo Lee add quality skills of their own to Utah's solid secondary.

Washington State Quarterback and Wide Receivers

Washington State has played three different quarterbacks this season and I'd have a hard time telling you which of them is best. For a team that has had its share of pitiful seasons lately they certainly have built up a store of quality signal-callers to lead their offenses. Following his 494-yard 4-touchdownperformance last week, redshirt freshman Connor Halliday will get his first career start on Saturday against the Utes. Halliday showed an incredible passing touch and carved up a quality Arizona State defense. Having players like Marquess Wilson to throw to certainly helps. Wilson is one of the best receivers Utah will see all year and his teammates Barton and Karstetter are dangerous as well. While it's not likely Halliday matches last week's performance, his potential along with his weapons makes this without question Washington State's most deadly unit.

EDGE: Washington State

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