We're getting closer to College Game Day, and the No. 4 Washington Huskies traveling south to face off with the No. 16 Utah Utes in Salt Lake City. To get more intel on the Utes, we recruited Utezone.com's Dan Sorensen to help us answer our questions.
Obviously a big storyline is the fact that College Game Day will be there. How big a factor will that play in creating the kind of environment that might prove too much to overcome for Washington, who is 0-4 in College Game Day games they've been a part of?
Utah is no stranger to College Game Day, as the Utes have hosted the program multiple times, including prior to last year's game against Cal. The biggest impact will be on the home crowd, as the buzz of the production generally tends to create a more energetic atmosphere in the lead up to kickoff. For the team, I don't think it will be that much of a distraction. They know that Washington is arguably the best team they'll face this year and that they'll need to be focused if they want to win. I expect Game Day to have a much larger impact on the home crowd than anything else.
Another big narrative is Troy Williams playing his old team. He's talked in joking terms about putting up 'video game numbers' against some of his former teammates, but just how motivated do you think Williams is when it comes to playing the Huskies? And will that be enough for him to be able to lead the Utes to a win?
Williams is a fierce competitor, so there's no doubt that he'll want to play well against the Huskies. It's pretty clear that a win over Washington would be especially sweet for him. That said, the way Utah operates on offense, Williams knows that he won't be called upon to win the game by himself. The Utah offense has been balanced throughout the year, and the emergence of Joe Williams as a rushing threat will lighten the burden on Williams. For Utah to win, Williams needs to play within himself without trying to force things too much. Williams' biggest responsibility will be to limit turnovers and make good decisions.
The Joe Williams story has been straight out of Hollywood. Do Utah fans think he will continue to run the way that he has, especially given how he played against UCLA? Or is it more likely he comes back down to earth a bit?
Williams has played the best football of his life over the past two weeks. Although Ute fans knew he had talent, nobody saw a 300+ yard, four touchdown performance against UCLA coming. He was pretty beat up when he decided to retire, and it's clear that he's feeling much better. Williams is hitting the hole hard, and has true breakaway speed that enables him to run away from defenders. Nobody expects Williams to have a repeat performance of last week, but he'll be a featured part of the offense. While Williams gets the headlines, one factor that gets less attention is that the Utah offensive line has been playing near perfect power football. They put on a clinic against a solid UCLA defensive front seven.
It's been no secret that Utah has really been hit hard by the injury bug. Can you run down who has been affected, who is out of the game and who is coming back that might be able to make an impact in this game?
Kyle Whittingham treats non-season ending injuries like a state secret, so it's hard to speculate exactly who will be back on Saturday. But it's true that Utah has been among the hardest hit programs in college football. They've already lost five starters for the season to injury, including All-Conference candidates Kylie Fitts (DE) and JJ Dielman (OL). The biggest question marks are on defense, where All-Conference free safety Marcus Williams and starting linebacker Sunia Tauteoli both missed the game against UCLA. It's unclear whether either will be back. Williams would be an especially big loss, given Washington's prowess passing the football. On offense, Tim Patrick (Utah's leading receiver) and Zach Moss (Utah's second leading rusher) have been hobbled by injuries in recent weeks, but both are expected to play.
What should Washington fans look for when checking out Utah's defense? Who are the key players they should be following as the Utes try and stop Washington's offensive attack?
Utah is known for its attacking defense, and it all starts up front for the Utes. The line, led by senior DE Hunter Dimick and junior tackles Lowell Lotulelei and Filipo Mokofisi has been dominant for much of the season. The Utes' best chance against the Husky offense will be to try to put pressure on Jake Browning and force him into making mistakes. Dimick is among the Pac-12's sack leaders, and will be joined by fellow senior Pita Taumoepenu, who is one of Utah's better pass rushing specialists. In the secondary, strong safety Chase Hansen is a standout playmaker that will spend a lot of time in the box in run support. If Marcus Williams is healthy and good to go, he could be an impact player as well.
What are your overall game keys and prediction for the game?
Turnovers will be a big key to the game. Utah is one of the best programs in college football at forcing turnovers, and the Utes will need to have a positive turnover differential to win this one. Aside from that, whichever team better stops the run will be the victor. Utah's offense depends on a strong rushing attack, and the Utes need to try to make a very good offense one-dimensional.
In terms of predictions, this one is a hard one to call. Washington is really good, and it's easy to envision a scenario where they beat the tar out of the Utes - especially if they come out with a fast start. That said, I expect this game to be similar to every other Pac-12 game Utah has played this season. It'll be a nail biter that comes down to the final possession. Utah has a habit of winning ugly, and if they can force Washington to play their game, I could see the Utes pulling off the upset. My prediction? Utah wins in a shocker, 27-24.