Last season, the Washington Huskies were a stumbling block to the Utah Utes' dreams of a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Can the No. 9 Utes flip the script on the Huskies when the two teams clash in Seattle on Saturday?
Utah (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) seems well-positioned to get revenge for that title game loss. The Utes are playing defense on an elite level amid a four-game winning streak. They had their most complete game yet, holding California to just 83 total yards in a 35-0 victory. Utah has allowed a combined 23 points over the team's last four games and 219 total yards over the last two contests.
Washington (5-3, 2-3) has done well on defense but has been erratic offensively against other Pac-12 teams. The Huskies blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 35-31 loss to Oregon two weeks ago after their offense sputtered down the stretch. Washington is scoring 28.4 points per game in league play after averaging 48.0 points in three non-conference victories.
Washington leads the all-time series 12-1 and has won four straight games against Utah. The Utes' lone win in the series came in 2015 when they beat the Huskies 34-23 in Seattle.
Utah at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah – 3.5
When Utah Has the Ball
Generating offense against the Huskies proved to be a chore last season. The Utes combined for 449 yards and 10 points in two losses to Washington on just 3.7 yards per play. Utah should not have as much difficulty this time around. The Huskies aren't nearly as fearsome on defense, and the Utes are much more efficient and better able to sustain long drives.
Zack Moss is a big reason behind it. Moss is Utah's career leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and 100-yard rushing games at Utah. He has been an absolute beast in the backfield, running for 728 yards and 10 touchdowns through seven games. Moss is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 104.0 yards per game. If he eclipses 100 yards, that's historically a good sign for the Utes; they are 12-3 over the past three seasons when Moss has at least 100 rushing yards. Getting Moss touches will be a priority, although his track record against Washington hasn't been stellar with just 44.3 rushing yards and 4.0 yards per carry in three career games against the Huskies.
If Tyler Huntley continues to make progress with his injured leg, Moss will not be forced to shoulder the playmaking burden alone. Huntley threw for 214 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-17 passing against California, even while playing through a knee sprain. When fully healthy in his first six games, Huntley completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each contest. He leads the Pac-12 in completion rate (73.1 percent), pass efficiency (181.0), and yards per pass attempt (10.6).
Huntley has plenty of reliable targets downfield, which has helped him be accurate and efficient. Bryan Thompson has emerged as a valuable deep threat with 371 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 catches. Beyond him, 10 different receivers have caught eight or more passes — led by Demari Simpkins with 18 receptions.
When Washington Has the Ball
Starting fast against Utah may offer the Huskies the best hope for an upset. The Utes have allowed 28 first-quarter points this season and just 54 points in the other three quarters combined. Washington has outscored opponents 97-13 in the first quarter this season.
For Washington, it will come down to what Jacob Eason can do in the passing game. Eason has done well this season, throwing for 1,981 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 67.4 percent of his passes. He has three straight 200-yard passing games and threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-30 passing against Oregon. But Utah won't make it easy to get to that level of proficiency. The Utes have allowed 85 total passing yards over the last two games while limiting their opponents to a 32.5 percent completion rate.
Running the ball won't be any easier, although the Huskies have the tools in the backfield to get things done. Salvon Ahmed is on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season with 662 yards and seven touchdowns through seven games. He is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Ahmed gained 28 yards on eight carries against the Utes in last season's Pac-12 Championship Game as the secondary back behind Myles Gaskin.
The Huskies will get a little more offensive punch if playmakers like Aaron Fuller, Sean McGrew, and Richard Newton can get back on the field after battling injuries the past few weeks. Fuller is the team's top receiver with 558 yards and five touchdowns on 40 catches. McGrew and Newton have helped shoulder the load in the backfield when healthy.
Tough physical football is usually what you get when Washington and Utah get together, and this game won't vary from that script. The Huskies have had the Utes' number in recent seasons and always seem to find a way to sneak away with a win in a tight contest. One element in Utah's favor this time around is that the Utes are on an elite level defensively, similar to how Washington performed on that side of the ball last season. It gave the Huskies an edge at that time. It will give Utah an edge now.
Prediction: Utah 21, Washington 17
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.