Utah at Washington State - Game Preview

The Utah Utes travel to Pullman to take on Washington State.

Facts and Factors:
Utah (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) travels to Washington State (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) on Saturday, Nov. 19 in a cross-divisional matchup. At 6-4, Utah is bowl eligible for the ninth-consecutive season. Kyle Whittingham has reached a bowl game in all seven of his seasons as head coach. It will be the 10th bowl game in 11 years for the Utes.

Utah has won four of its last five games and is riding a three game win streak (Oregon State, Arizona and UCLA). Utah's other win during that stretch was at Pitt on Oct. 15, while the only loss was to Cal.

With last week's 31-6 win over UCLA, Whittingham evened his all-time record against Pac-12 schools at 7-7.

Saturday's game in Pullman is Utah's final regular season road game. Utah concludes its home schedule on Friday, Nov. 25 against Colorado.

The series with Washington State is tied 5-5 with Utah leading 3-1 in Pullman. Washington State won the most recent contest in 2000 in Salt Lake City.

When Utah has the ball:
Utah's offense enters Saturday's game knowing what they need to accomplish in order to win. Last week against UCLA, Utah's offense was able to impose its' will on the Bruins, producing 24 points in poor weather conditions. On the season, Utah has averaged just under 25 points per game. Utah rushed the ball on 59% of offensive plays from scrimmage, a percentage that continues to rise with each game with Jon Hays under center.

Washington State's defense has not performed great this season. Opponents have averaged 31.3 points per game this season (ranked 90th in the nation in scoring defense). The Cougars have been stronger against the run than against the pass. WSU's rush defense ranks 63rd in the nation, while their pass efficiency defense ranks 105th in the nation.

For the Utes, Jon Hays will take the field as the Ute signal caller. Hays is far more confident now (in his 7th start of his career), than he was when he started the season. Hays has completed 54% of his passes on the season, with 8 TDs and 7 INTs. Most importantly, Hays will need to take care of the ball, and keep the Utes out of 3rd and long situations.

The unquestionable leader of Utah's offense has been John White IV. White has simply been spectacular for the Utes, rushing for 1191 yards on the season (119 per game). White has averaged 5.0 yards per carry, and scored 14 touchdowns…all while facing defenses committed to stack the box and stop the run.

Though Utah will likely look to keep the ball on the ground Saturday, the wide receivers will have opportunities to exploit a vulnerable WSU secondary. Devonte Christopher has been Utah's most dangerous receiver, racking up 450 yards in 8 games, and scoring 4 TDs. Utah will look for Reggie Dunn, Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott to break big plays down the field. Ute FB Shawn Asiata has also become a nice receiving option on 3rd and short situations.

On the Offensive Line, Utah is coming off of their best stretch of games this season. Senior OT John Cullen is coming off of back-to-back games where he won 90% of snaps on offense. Tony Bergstrom has also played great of late, averaging 89% over his last 3 games. OG Miles Mason is coming off of his best game as a Ute, he won 83% of snaps vs. UCLA. OG Sam Brenner won 83% of plays last week, while C Tevita Stevens won 84%. One thing has become clear, this Ute OLine is much more comfortable in run blocking than pass blocking.

Washington State's defensive line have shown flashes at times, but ultimately underperformed. Travis Long is the big play guy on the Cougar DLine, leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss. Long is the type of player that will seek out the big play, and sometimes leave his assignment in search of that big play. DE Adam Coeper and DTs Brandon Rankin and Anthony Laurenzi are players capable of playing well, but ultimately should give way to the Ute rushing attack.

Senior LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis is the most productive player on this WSU defense. Hoffman-Ellis leads the team in tackles with 72, including 8 TFLs and 2 sacks. C.J. Mizell has been an effective player for the Cougar defense, while Sekope Kaufusi is still getting up to speed as a starter.

In the WSU secondary, Nolan Washington has performed well, and will likely draw DeVonte Christopher as an assignment. Damante Horton probably is not ready for the starting position, but starts at CB out of necessity. At safety, Deone Bucannon has made some great plays in center-field, and has 3 interceptions on the season. Tyree Toomer is capable in theory, but has been rendered less capable as he recovers from an injury that caused him to miss last season.

When Washington State has the ball:
Washington State enters Saturday's matchup with one of the most explosive passing attacks in the nation. On the season, Washington State has put up 31 points per game, with 318.7 passing yards per game (9th in the nation). The cougars are a pass first offense, opting to pass on 54% of plays this season. In terms of yardage, WSU has gained 74% of their yards from scrimmage through the air.

Utah's defense has become one of top defenses in the Pac-12. Led by their defensive front, Utah has become known as a physical group that stops the run first, and uses a variety of complicated defensive schemes to confuse opposing offenses. Thus far in conference play, Utah's defense has been excellent.

WSU has announced Connor Halliday will start on Saturday at QB. Halliday, a freshman, has completed 58% of his passes on the season with 7 TDs and 0 INTs. Halliday led the Cougars in an upset win over Arizona State last week. In the performance, Halliday threw for 494 yards with 4 TDs while completing 75% of his passes. Despite his impressive statistics in playing time, Halliday is still inexperienced, and does not have complete confidence of his team, coaches and fans. Halliday was third on the depth chart to start the season behind the proven Jeff Tuel, and Marshall Lobbestael. Lobbestael may get some time on Saturday if Halliday struggles, and has had an up and down season.

At Running Back, Washington State will utilize both Rickey Galvin and Carl Winston. Galvin has been the more productive back, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with 5 TDs (517 total yards). Carl Winston has more carries (110) but less yardage (420). Galvin will catch a few balls through the air, and is more agile than Winston. Given the weather conditions, Utah may see more action from these backs than would otherwise be expected. Still, neither player presents too much of a threat.

On the outside, the Cougars are dangerous. Sophomore WR Marquess Wilson is a huge talent, and has 1197 receiving yards on the season and 9 TDs (119.7 yards/game). While Wilson certainly is the player to fear on the Cougar offense, both Isaiah Barton and Jared Karstetter have more receiving yards than any player on the Utes. Halliday will look to spread the ball around the field and challenge the Ute secondary.

On the Offensive Line, WSU is led by all-Conference OG B.J. Guera. Alongside Guera, WSU will has harvested the Junior College ranks to find starters on the OLine. Starting LT David Gonzalez is a Juco guy in his second year starting at WSU. OG John Fullington and C Matt Goetz are also Junior College guys starting for the Wildcats. The 5th wildcat starter on the OLine is Dan Spitz, who started his career on the defensive side of the ball.

For the Utes, it all starts up front with their defensive line. Star Lotulelei is the most dominant player on the Utes at Defensive Tackle, and should have his way with an undersized WSU Offensive Line. Star has 6 TFLs this season. As good as Star has been, many NFL scouts believe that DE Derrick Shelby may have the most upside. The senior DE has battled injuries most of his career, but is finally healthy and now is performing at a very high level. Shelby has 7 TFLs on the season and 4 sacks. Sophomore DE Joe Kruger is starting to improve. DT/DE Tevita Finau has emerged as a play maker for this defense, and will play multiple spots on the DLine. Dave Kruger and James Aiono will rotate in, as will pass rush specialist Nai Fotu.

Linebacker was once a deep position for the Utes, but due to injuries, has become a position where the Utes can't afford to lose any more players. Trevor Reilly has been the big play guy from this group, racking up 5 sacks and 9 TFLs from the OLB position. Chaz Walker is the tackling machine, running away with the lead for most tackles on the Utes with 82. Walker is best in run support. Matt Martinez is the 3rd starter, and he has really come on lately. Like Walker, he's best in run support, but also has some ability to get to the quarterback on a blitz. Freshmen V.J. Fehoko and Jacoby Hale should also see significant playing time, and Junior David Fagergren will see the field as well.

The Utah secondary faces the biggest challenge once again in trying to contain an elite WR. Utah believes that Conroy Black is up to the challenge at CB. Black has gotten better and better for the Utes, and rarely gets his name called, which is a sure sign of a great CB. Ryan Lacy and Mo Lee are capable defenders, and will be placed in favorable matchups according to size. At safety, Utah has found a position of strength. Brian Blechen has always been a leader for the Utes on defense, and is playing well at Strong Safety. True Freshman Eric Rowe has developed even more rapidly than fans and coaches could have hoped. Rowe is on his way to great things, and is already a strength for the Utes over the top.

Special Teams:
To start the season, Utah was extremely uncomfortable with their kicking game. Coleman Peterson appeared inconsistent at PK, while punter was a loss. Since that time, Peterson has developed some confidence, and has converted 14 of 18 kicks as a result. At punter, Sean Sellwood will get the majority of punting opportunities, and has kicked the ball well of late. Sellwood is averaging 43.9 yards per punt. Nick Marsh will handle kickoff duties, a unit that has performed well throughout the season.

For WSU, Andrew Furney has been very reliable. The Cougar PK has made 12 of 14 field goals on the season, and has not missed an attempt over 30 yards. At punter, Dan Wagner has not been great for the Cougars. He's averaging just over 40 yards per punt on the season.

In the return game, Reggie Dunn has started to emerge as a threat for the Utes. The junior speedster is yet to break a touchdown return this season, but has given the Utes good field position. Griff McNabb had been handling punt return duties for the Utes, but after a bad fumble against UCLA, it is not yet determined who will return punts for the Utes.

For WSU, Isiah Barton is very similar to Reggie Dunn. Barton is averaging nearly 25 yards per kick return, but is yet to break one this season. Barton is still a threat that the Utes will need to contain.

The Utes have a few major injuries they are fighting through. Starters Jordan Wynn (QB), Dallin Rogers (TE), Latu Heimuli (OG) and reserves Charles Henderson (WR/PR), J.J. Williams (LB) and Keith McGill (S) will be out for the remainder of the season. Many other Utes have been dinged up this season but are playing through the pain of their injuries.

Weather forecasts for Saturday predict snowy weather with a high of 27 and a low of 14. This weather favors Utah as it should slow the WSU passing attack.

Washington State has faced the 28th most difficult schedule in the nation this season, while Utah has faced the 41st most difficult schedule this season. Both Utah and WSU played at home last week, so travel will only influence the Utes this week.

Utah 21, Washington State 14

The Vegas Line suggests the point total will be quite a bit higher than this, but given the weather conditions and Utah's defensive ability to confuse inexperienced QBs, this will be a lower scoring game that may come down to the end. Ultimately, Utah will be better able to run the ball than WSU, and will pull out the victory.

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