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Game matchups: Utah defense vs. UW offense

UteZone breaks down the matchups between the Husky offense and the Utah defense

No. 17 Utah (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) will line up against perhaps the most balanced, efficient offense they have faced this season when they host No. 4 Washington (7-0, 4-0). The game will be Washington’s third road game of the season.
The Huskies enter the game ranked in the top-25 nationally in scoring offense (4th), rushing offense (24th), passer rating (1st), total offense (24th), 3rd down efficiency (19th), red zone touchdown percentage (3rd) and plays of 30 or more yards (6th). They are explosive, efficient, and have shown no real weakness on offense. They lead the country in turnover margin, in large part because they have turned the ball over just five times.
No quarterback in the country is playing better football than Washington’s Jake Browning, though he is doing so with little national recognition. On the season, he is completing 69 percent of his passes while throwing two interceptions and 26 touchdown passes. He can make all the throws, is quick and decisive in his reads, and puts the ball where receivers can male plays after the catch. Browning is also a good athlete and runner, able to not only buy time with his feet, but tuck the ball and run for positive yards. He has gained 63 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Myles Gaskin is a workhorse back and one of the better backs in the conference. He has run for 727 yards and six touchdowns on 116 carries, leading the Pac-12 with 103.8 yards per game. Gaskin can run between the tackles and will run through defenders despite weighing 195 pounds. He has the quickness get to the edge of a defense and the speed to outrun defenders. Lavon Coleman is a good complement to Gaskin, and has some of the same skills at 228 pounds. Coleman is better running inside, but he has better speed than expected. He has run for 432 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries. Jomon Dotson will also see time in the backfield, and has run the ball 45 times for 222 yards and a score. 
At receiver, John Ross, Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher have been headaches for opposing secondaries. All have enough speed to beat corners deep, with Ross the fastest of the bunch. Ross has developed into a complete receiver after being little more than a decoy deep threat and return specialist his first two seasons. He leads the team with 34 catches, 486 yards and 9 touchdowns. Strangely, Ross does his damage early, with 20 catches, 332 yards and four touchdowns on first downs and 29 catches, 431 yards and seven touchdowns in the first half of games. Pettis is dangerous with the ball in his hands, and is second on the team with 27 catches, 457 yards and eight touchdowns. McClatcher is an excellent slot receiver, catching 16 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns. Tight ends are generally not involved in the passing game, accounting for 13 percent of all receptions, though Darrell Daniels has caught 11 passes for 143 yards and a score. Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia and Quinten Pounds provide solid depth at receiver.
Left tackle Tre Adams is turning into one of the better linemen in the conference. The sophomore moves well, especially for a 6-foot-8, 309-pound lineman. He has good strength and drive off the ball in the run game, and is solid in pass protection thanks to his length. He is the Huskies’ best lineman. Right tackle Kaleb McGary is a good player, especially as a run blocker where he has great strength and leverage. He can get to the second level and wall off linebackers. He can be beat in pass protection, but is generally solid. Left guard Jake Eldrenkamp is a solid but unspectacular player. He can move and can pull and lead, but he does struggle a bit trying to block in space. He struggles at times one-on-one and can be overpowered. The same can be said of center Coleman Shelton and right guard Shane Brostek. Along the interior, the whole is greater than the abilities of the individual players.
Utah’s defense has not played well since the USC game, allowing 411 yards per game—304.5 through the air— and 27.5 points per game. The secondary has been poor in coverage and worse tackling the ball carrier, the main culprit in the Utes allowing 6.2 yards per play in the four games since the USC win. Fortunately for the Utes, they have forced 11 turnovers in those games, including nine interceptions, which has kept offenses from taking advantage of the yards they are putting up.
That won’t be the case against Washington. Utah’s linebackers and secondary must step up their play as the Huskies don’t turn the ball over. Kavika Luafatasaga and Cody Barton have struggled at times at linebacker, allowing big plays because they have not been assignment-sound or because they missed a tackle. Barton has been on the edge of personal fouls this season, and should have been ejected from the UCLA game on a targeting foul that was missed by the on-field and replay officials. Utah might get freshman Donovan Thompson involved on defense.
In the secondary, Utah’s strength was supposed to be in three senior corners with NFL aspirations. But Dominique Hatfield, Reggie Porter and Brian Allen have allowed far too many big plays recently, though Allen has made up for it somewhat with four interceptions in four games, two against UCLA. Porter has been the best and most consistent cover corner, while Hatfield has been tentative in coverage and tackling recently. Jordan Fogal was decent filling in for Marcus Williams at free safety, and is a good center-field safety. Fogal struggled with his angles and did a poor job of wrapping up ball carriers. Is Williams can play, he improves every weakness of Utah’s defense.
As for the line, expect Utah to play Filipo Mokofisi more at defensive end, as the Huskies want to run the football. Doing so stretches out the depth some at tackle, though Alani Havili-Katoa has been getting into the tackle rotation. How Utah matches up with Washington’s myriad formations, shifts and motions will be worth watching. Utah needs to be able to stop the run with seven box defenders, to take away the deep pass and play-action game.
Edge: Washington

Special Teams

The Huskies are a mess in the kicking game. Kicker Cameron Van Winkle has made 6-of-9 field goal attempts, is 2-of-5 from 40 or more yards and has missed a PAT. Punter Tristan Vizcaino is averaging 40.7 yards per punt, has had a punt blocked, and is netting 34.9 yards due to four touchbacks.
Specialists are about the only area Washington has problems on special teams. The Huskies have a kick and a punt return for a touchdown. Dante Pettis is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12.3 yards per return with a 68-yard touchdown. John Ross is electric on kick returns despite limited touches as teams generally kick away from him. On six returns, he is averaging 33.2 yards with a 92-yard score.
Coverage units are playing well, as the Huskies allow 17.9 yards per kick return and a miniscule 1.8 yards per punt return.
Utah’s coverage team allowed a 35-yard punt return and a 30-yard kick return against UCLA, and Washington fields more dangerous return men. On the season, though, the Utes have been solid, allowing 7.3 yards per punt return and 21 yards per kick return.
The most improved unit on the team is the kick return unit. Through the first five games, the Utes did not have a kick return gain more than 16 yards. In the last three games, Utah is averaging 30.2 yards per return. Cory Butler-Byrd had been close to breaking a kick for a touchdown, and finally did so on the opening kick against UCLA. Utah needs better play on punt returns, as Boobie Hobbs is averaging 7.1 yards per return, 5.6 in conference play. His blocking has been decent, but Hobbs is dancing around and running sideways too much, and he lacks the breakaway speed to get away with all the lateral running.
Andy Phillips uncharacteristically missed a kick from the right hash against UCLA, though he made his next three attempts in the game and has now made 13 of his 16 field goal attempts this season. The 35-yard punt return by UCLA dropped Mitch Wishnowsky’s net punt average nearly two yards, from 47.1 to 45.3 net yards per punt, though that number is still good enough to lead the country. Wishnowsky’s punt average has dropped off some in recent weeks, though most of that is because he is punting from shorter fields. He has made up for the drop in average by putting 14 of his last 21 punts inside the 20-yard line without a touchback.
Edge: Utah

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