Preview: Utah vs. Washington
Without decorated quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk, the Pac-12 took on a more defensive tone in 2018. And that’s certainly reflects in Friday night’s conference championship game which pits No. 17 Utah against No. 11 Washington in Santa Clara, Calif.
Both teams boast top-20 FBS total and scoring defenses with the Huskies allowing 311.3 yards and 16.5 points and the Utes permitting 315.8 yards and 19.3 points per game. “You (had) better get your mind right,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said Sunday in his weekly news conference. “Our guys know it’s going to be (a defensive game). They (the Utes) don’t give you anything. Lots of man coverage, (they) pack the box and are extremely active and aggressive.” Washington will be playing in its second Pac-12 title game in three years while Utah is making its first appearance since joining the conference in 2011. “It’s our first trip to the championship, and I’m proud of our guys for continuing to persevere and fight this season,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at his Monday media gathering. “We overcame so many obstacles and so much adversity. They are a great group to be around, and this has been one of the most enjoyable years of coaching for me.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Washington -5
ABOUT UTAH (9-3): The adversity Whittingham referenced centers mainly on the early-November injury losses of starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and tailback Zack Moss, who had accounted for 84 percent of the Utes’ total offense in the first nine games. Freshman Jason Shelley has stepped in at quarterback, and while he’s averaged only 208 passing yards over the last three contests, he’s also rushed for 112 yards and accounted for six touchdowns with no turnovers. Defensively, safety-turned-linebacker Chase Hansen has notched a conference-most 22 tackles for loss to pace a unit which has been the Pac-12’s stingiest against the run with 100.3 yards allowed (fifth nationally).
ABOUT WASHINGTON (9-3): Unlike Utah, the Huskies have the advantage of health and experience in the backfield with the senior duo of Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin. Browning, despite averaging a career-low 224.3 aerial yards this season, is the school’s career passing yards leader and Pac-12’s all-time winningest quarterback, while Gaskin is averaging 107.6 yards on the ground and is the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is tied for the lead nationally with 155 tackles and paces a defense which ranks second in the conference against the run (121.8 yards allowed) and pass (189.4 yards).
1. With a 21-7 road win at Utah on Sept. 15, Washington has won five of the six meetings since Utah entered the Pac-12.
2. In the September contest, Gaskin rushed for 143 yards and a TD on 30 carries while the Huskies’ defense forced three turnovers and had a trio of fourth-down stops.
3. The Utes figure to have the edge in the kicking game, ranking in the top 14 nationally in field goals made (23) and net-putting average (40.6).