We’re over halfway through the season and the Huskies have found themselves in a showdown with heavy post-season implications: both teams are tied for the lead for their division - Washington atop the north and Utah leading the pack in the south.
The Huskies are also firmly in the College Football Playoff discussion.
The fact that former Husky Troy Williams is under center for Utah adds gravy to this matchup - as if it needed to be any juicier.
Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen, his staff, and his players are determined not to let the outside noise distract them from the task at hand, and their task is tall. Utah is a good football team and they have a top-20 ranking as a result.
Let’s take a look at some of the players that make the Utes so tough.
#3 JR 6’2” 200-pound QB Troy Williams
2016 stats: 128 of 229 for 1725 yards, 7 TD, 5 INT, 124.9 efficiency rating, 145 rushing yards, 5 rushing TD
Scoop: It seems way longer than two years ago when Troy Williams started against Arizona State as a Husky. So much has happened since then. He left, spent a year Santa Monica College, and then transferred to Utah, where he earned the starting role prior to the start of the season. All players and coaches at Washington have declined that facing the former Dawg packs any more meaning into this game, but there’s no doubting, whether it’s beneficial or not, that the Huskies are very familiar with Troy Williams. He’s not going to kill you with his legs, but he can tuck it away and bite off a solid chunk of yardage if he needs to. He’s also found the end zone with his feet five times. He’s a strong-armed, athletic quarterback who will for sure be fired up to compete against his former teammates.
#28 SR 5’11” 205-pound RB Joe Williams
2016 stats: 85 carries for 586 yards, 6.9 YPC, 5 TD
Scoop: Joe Williams’ return to football leaves many wondering why he left in the first place. After walking away from the game two games into this season, he was asked to come back when injury issues left the Utes thin at the running back spot. In those two games he’s accumulated over 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. Psalm Wooching stressed the speed and explosiveness Williams possesses in his interview this week. The Husky defense will look to match speed with speed on Saturday.
#12 SR 6’5” 210-pound WR Tim Patrick
2016 stats: 24 receptions for 429 yards, 17.9 YPC, 5 TD
Scoop: Tim Patrick has provided Troy Williams the luxury of having a big, athletic threat on the outside. As evidenced by his 17.9 yards per reception, he’s able to use his size and strength to make big plays downfield. He’s also a nice red zone target for Williams, hauling in five of the seven touchdowns Utah has thrown this year.
#16 SR 5’10” 180-pound WR Cory Butler
2016 stats: 17 receptions for 263 yards, 15.5 YPC, 17 carries for 93 yards
Scoop: To counter Patrick’s size and strength, Cory Butler-Byrd is a quick, speedy, versatile receiver who’s been a swiss army knife of sorts this year. He’s currently second of all active Utes in scrimmage yards per game, averaging just over 70 yards in that department. He’s taken as many handoffs as he has receptions, proving an ability to do damage on the ground and through the air. But where he might be most dangerous is as a returner; the only time he’s found the end zone this season was when he took the opening kickoff 99 yards against UCLA. With the danger he brings to the run game, passing attack , and special teams, he’s a player we’ll be seeing a lot of on Saturday.
#49 SR 6’3” 272-pound DE Hunter Dimick
2016 stats: 36 total tackles, 9.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks
Scoop: No quarterback has been safe this season when playing the Utes, and Hunter Dimick is to blame. He’s a monster off the edge, providing pass rush and run support like it’s going out of style. It will be in the best interst of the Huskies to make sure he and Jake Browning don’t know each other well by the end of the day Saturday.
#45 JR 6’4” 278-pound DT Filipo Mokofisi
2016 stats: 30 total tackles, 6.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks
Scoop: Filipo Mokofisi has been putting up some impressive numbers for a defensive tackle, especially as a pass rusher. He’s just another piece of solid Utah defensive line which has been a handful for every opponent that’s come their way.
#93 JR 6’2” 310-pound DT Lowell Lotulelei
2016 stats: 10 total tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack
Scoop: Brother of former first round draft pick Star Lotulelei, Lowell came into his junior season decorated with a flurry of accolades. He was a first team all-conference lineman last year, and while the numbers don’t do him justice, he’s a heck of an interior lineman who clears a lot of space up for those around him.
#22 SO 6’3” 216-pound S Chase Hansen
2016 stats: 49 total tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PD, 2 FF
Scoop: The Utah secondary is known for its ability to pick off passes, but Chase Hansen has made a name for himself another way. He’s a solid tackler and hard hitter who gets after it in the run game. He leads the team in tackles and has forced a couple fumbles with solid hits. He’s a thumper who thrives among a group of solid coverage defensive backs
#29 SR 5’11” 185-pound CB Reginald Porter
2016 stats: 26 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD
Scoop: Reggie Porter has only gotten to play two seasons in four years at Utah, due to redshirting one and missing another with an injury. But in his 29 games he’s started 17 times and has tarted 15 of the last 18. He’s a talented, experienced corner who, like the rest of the secondary, has a nose for the football.
#14 SR 6’3” 205-pound CB Brian Allen
2016 stats: 22 total tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 4 INT, 9 PD
Scoop: A corner cut from the same cloth as Kevin King, Brian Allen gives receivers fits with his size. It’s hard to throw over an 6’3” corner with a big vertical leap, and he’s made those who have tried to do that pay by picking off four passes and batting down another nine. Of all the playmakers on this secondary, he’s been the most impressive so far.
What the Utah Offense Looks Like
The Utah offense hangs its hat on running the football, going to the ground on over 60 percent of the plays they call. They have an offensive line that features three juniors and two seniors, and the Utes aren’t afraid to run behind them. Like any team they run counter plays, they run power, and the lot, but the Utes seem to pull lineman a lot, using their athletic big guys to create holes for their backs.
Joe Williams is a great back for their system. At 205 pounds, he has the body to run between the tackles and take a few shots over the course of the game. But what makes him exceptional is his burst and breakaway speed. When he sees a hole, you can see goodbye. Even with all the injuries in the backfield, he and Zach Moss have stepped up and provided solid production for the Utes.
They have options in the passing game, but they haven’t lit up the stat sheet with dominant figures. Tim Patrick and Raelon Singleton are both very big receivers that have a size and strength advantage over most corners in the league. Cory Butler-Byrd is their slot guy who can also take handoffs; he’s more of a yards after catch threat than the other two. Evan Moeai has added some solid contributions as a pass-catching tight end as well.
They dominate time of possession, holding the ball for over 35 minutes per game, and that can be attributed to their success ruing the football. They also run a surprisingly high number of plays, just surpassing 75 a game. As an offense, they aren’t anything too fancy, but they’re good at what they do: running the football.
What the Utah Defense Looks Like
From their solid defensive line to their group of playmakers in the secondary, this defense will be tougher than any the Huskies have faced in 2016. Their defensive line is deep and talented with great pass rushers in Hunter Dimick and Filipo Mokofisi, a mauler in the middle in Lowell Lotulelei, and solid second stringers like Pasoni Tasini. This unit is responsible for the impressive numbers the Utes have put up defending the run. They’ve allowed only seven rushing touchdowns in eight games and are limiting opponents to less than 120 rushing yards per game. Some credit also has to be given to Cody Barton and the linebacker corps, who have done a solid job bottling up running backs.
The Utah secondary is dangerous. Their 14 interceptions are most in the conference by a lot. They limit opponents to a 53 percent completion percentage, and if you tossed out the UCLA game they’ve only allowed nine passing touchdowns in seven games. The loss of Marcus Williams will hurt, but there are plenty of playmakers to go around in this group. Between Reginald Porter and Brian Allen you have two studs in pass coverage who can make plays on the ball. Chase Hansen is the enforcer of the group, making his impact felt as a run supporter and pass coverer. The rest of the secondary is chalk full of experience with guys like Justin Thomas and Dominique Hatfield.
Utah has a strong defense, but their showing at UCLA indicates they can be exposed. However, it will be a lot harder to do that in front of a Game Day atmosphere in Salt Lake City.
Keys to the Game
1. Take care of the football - With all the talk they get for forcing turnovers, their 14 turnovers lost is third worst in the conference. Their facing a Husky team that has the highest turnover margin int the conference, and it’s not close. They ought to not play into one of Washington’s strengths
2. Keep the Dawgs off the ground - The Huskies have hit the ground running in conference play, dominating the trenches offensively. If Myles Gsakin and Lavon Coleman can be kept in check, that could halt the momentum the Dawgs have been feeding off of since their emphatic win over Stanford.
3. Batter Browning - The Husky offensive line has done a great job keeping Browning on his feet, and he’s made competitors pay, stringing together a Heisman talk-inducing first half of the year. Utah’s got a strong line that needs to make him feel uncomfortable before he does much damage.
1. Keep Joe Williams from busting big plays - Nearly half (162) of Joe Williams’ yards against UCLA came on three plays. If the Huskies can keep him from busting some big ones, the Utes will be forced to march against one of the country’s best defenses/
2. Make good decisions - This will be Washington’s biggest test to date. It will be loud. The stakes are high. Can Jake Browning tune out the noise, play fundamentally, and not force anything against a defense that has 14 interceptions? I have no reason to believe he can’t.
3. Start off fast - The Huskies are outscoring opponents 100-7 in the first quarter. If they can get up a few scores early on the road, it will be huge in neutralizing the crowd and sucking some energy out of the stadium.