A Look at the Opponent: Washington State
Record: 3-1 (0-1 Pac-12)
Avg. total yards: 605.2
Avg. pass yards: 499.5
Avg. rush yards: 105.8
Avg. points per game: 52.8
Total yards allowed per game: 424.0
Pass yards allowed per game: 248.8
Rush yards allowed per game: 175.2
Points per game allowed: 28.8
After a tough, seven-point loss at the Coliseum, the University of Utah has their conference home opener with an old friend of Kyle Whittingham’s in the Mike Leach-led Washington State Cougars. A darkhorse for the Pac-12 North title, Wazzu is also coming off a setback loss to UCLA in an epic #pac12afterdark showdown, as the Bruins came back from a 49-17 deficit with 6:52 left in the third quarter to win 67-63. While this is not going to be the potential ESPN Gameday matchup that the conference was hoping for, it is always a fascinating chess match between a defensive sage in Whittingham and an offensive guru in Leach.
Strength: Quarterback play
Led by The Pirate himself, fans should expect to see a finely-tuned version of the Air-Raid offense. Last week, senior Anthony Gordon threw for 570 yards and nine (yes, NINE) touchdowns in the losing effort. It should be noted that Washington State also ran for 150 yards on 21 attempts (7.1 yard average), but this offense is defined by its passing game and Gordon rewrote the school record books, last week. Leach’s offense starts and finishes with its quarterbacks, and Gordon should be licking his chops after the Utah secondary was torched by USC receivers last week.
Question mark: Mental fortitude
Losing a 32 point lead into the third quarter after dominating over the first half of the game does not happen by accident. Overall, Washington State committed six turnovers in the game, with all four fumbles occurring in the second half. Special teams also slipped up, as UCLA returned a punt for 69 yards and a touchdown to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter. Yes, the offense put up 63 points, but the defense allowed 67, and 50 of those points came after halftime. Utah faces a tall task to slow down the Cougar offense, but Washington State’s defense showed its vulnerability last weekend.
X-factor: Red zone defense
Last week, Utah’s offense crossed into the red zone six times and scored touchdowns on two of those drives and field goals on three, but the night was highlighted by a fumble at the goal line. Despite this inefficiency, the Utes only lost by seven points. Utah proved last week that they can move the ball down the field against USC, but they could not convert when it mattered most. The Washington State defense will need to adapt the “bend-don’t-break” attitude that the Trojans did if they want to keep pressure on Utah. If Utah is able to convert possessions into touchdowns over field goals throughout the game, Washington State could find themselves in another shootout.
Score prediction: Utah 37, Washington State 34