Washington and Utah State will battle in a matchup of two 1-1 teams that will be looking for a chance to gain some critical momentum early on in the 2015 season. Washington had little trouble bouncing back from the loss at Boise State by routing an overmatched Sacramento State team 49-0. Utah State continued to struggle offensively in a 24-14 loss to in-state rival Utah last Friday night at Rice Eccles Stadium
For Washington, it’s an opportunity to continue to the development of freshman quarterback Jake Browning and to test the offensive line against an aggressive pass rush from the Aggies. Utah State has Chuckie Keeton healthy at quarterback and will finally have the services of wide receiver Hunter Sharp, who missed the first two games of the season due to a violation of team rules. Sharp, had 66 catches for 939 yards in 2014 and should give a spark to an offense that could use one on Saturday.
Washington and Utah State have played twice, with the Huskies winning both times. The last times these two teams faced each other was during the 1998 season, a game Washington won 53-12 at Husky Stadium.
Utah State at Washington
Kickoff: 5:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Washington QB Jake Browning
Browning was 17 of 24 for 324 yards passing and two touchdowns last week against a Sacramento State that did throw several different looks at him defensively. There were some passes that were nearly intercepted and he did get a break on a tipped pass that went off a Hornets defensive back and into the hands of wide receiver Marvin Hall for a 78 yard touchdown in the third quarter. This matchup with Utah State is going to be a critical next step in his development as he will be under siege by the Aggie defense all game long. The ability to get the ball out quick with slant routes to attack Utah State instead of bubble screens that drive Washington fans up a wall just has to happen. Browning will also be helped if the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage to open up holes for Myles Gaskin in the running game.
2. Washington Defense against Chuckie Keeton
With Hunter Sharp back in the fold for the Aggies it is going to be interesting to see how the Huskies defensively will respond to dealing with Chuckie Keeton getting his top receiver back. Washington played very well as a whole defensively over the last six quarters and they settled down against Boise State and shut them down in the second half. In the Sacramento State game the Huskies took away their running game and made them one dimensional as the Hornets mustered just 11 yards rushing the football. The ability to control the line of scrimmage by the defensive line will set the tone in this contest as Washington is deep and has shown the ability to wear opposing offensive lines down in the second half of both games this season. An underrated factor in increased depth and wearing teams down in the second half along the defensive line is strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha, who has done some serious work player-development-wise in the weight room with the defensive front and the team as a whole.
3. Will Budda Baker make an appearance on offense?
The first two weeks of the season have not really allowed for head coach Chris Petersen and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith to get Budda Baker involved on the offensive side of the ball. Baker had been utilized during fall camp at times on the offensive side of the ball and this might be the perfect week with Cal on the horizon to give Baker some run offensively even if it’s just for a couple of plays. Baker is a very dynamic athlete with the ball in his hands and could break a big play at any moment on a jet sweep, quick slant, or even in the vertical passing game top stretch the Aggies defensively and keep them honest. It also would give the Golden Bears a little something extra to think about next week in their preparation for a very important conference opener for both teams.
This should be a pretty competitive game as both teams will be looking to break out offensively in this one. Washington's ability to protect Jake Browning enough by the offensive line along with not letting Chuckie Keeton run wild with his legs defensively will be the difference maker. It is also going to be important for the Huskies to continue to take care of business in the kicking game as the Aggies have a dangerous return man in Andrew Rodriguez, who had an 88-yard punt return in their season opening 12-9 win over Southern Utah. Overall, look for Washington to show more improvement offensively and find a way to get to 27 points and move on to 2-1 on the season.
Prediction: Washington 27, Utah State 20
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter @scottwhittum.