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Utah Utes vs. Washington Huskies Preview and Prediction

Jake Browning

Jake Browning

A road loss at Stanford last week complicated the path to a Pac-12 championship repeat for the Washington Huskies.

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Chris Petersen's team now sits tied in the loss column with Stanford and Washington State. The Huskies get rival Washington State in next week's Apple Cup, but the Dawgs need help from Cal to unseat a Stanford bunch that owns the North division tiebreaker.

Of course, all that is moot if Utah can spring a monumental upset, which is what the Utes might need to gain bowl eligibility.

Utah's midseason struggles continued last week with a 33-25 loss to Washington State, leaving the Utes at 5-5 and in need of a win in one of their final two games to reach the postseason. Utah faces Colorado next week, and coming off a bye, the Buffaloes also will enter the Rocky Mountain Rumble with five wins and in need of one more.

Utah at Washington

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Washington -17

Three Things to Watch

1. Finishing drives

Utah and Washington are two teams with similar make-up. Both are built on their defensive prowess, and have offenses that seek to physically wear down an opponent. Likewise, both have struggled at times to finish off drives, to the detriment of each.

Washington scored three touchdowns a week ago at Stanford, but had five possessions between the second and fourth quarters where the Huskies came away with no points. Utah has endured its own issues capitalizing on opportunities. The Utes are No. 108 nationally in touchdown conversions made in the red zone at just 52.08 percent.

An inability to finish drives has been the most glaring flaw for both teams in their respective losses, and has allowed opponents to build double-digit-point advantages in all of those games.

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2. Ball control

In Utah's one-possession loss to Washington State, three of the Utes' first five possessions ended in turnovers, contributing to their No. 123 national rank in giveaways (23 total) on the season. Add a missed field goal to that run, and it's somewhat surprising Utah was competitive at all.

Conversely, Washington has been an excellent ball-control team this season, losing possession just 10 times. Turnovers have not played a negative role in either of Washington's losses — the Huskies gave away possession once against Stanford and not at all at Arizona State — but takeaways have fueled the Huskies' more lopsided wins.

Washington's turnover-generation is way down from a season ago, when the Dawgs were tops in college football, but Utah's propensity for giveaways could turn Saturday's contest lopsided early.

3. Quarterback bounce-back

Quarterback questions loom for both Utah and Washington after their losses last week. In both instances, the uncertainty goes beyond one game. Washington's Jake Browning was a Heisman Trophy contender for much of 2016, before a late-season shoulder injury slowed his production.

He's been effective in 2017, but rarely excellent. Browning needs only be effective to give the Huskies' dynamic backfield of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman room to operate, but Washington needs more against great defensive fronts — and that's what the Huskies face this week with a Utah defensive line featuring Lowell Lotulelei and Filipo Mokofisi.

If Browning's issue is playing too conservatively, the exact opposite is true for Utah's Tyler Huntley (above, right). An explosive, dual-threat playmaker, Huntley has struggled trying not to do too much, resulting in the bevy of turnovers Utah's given away.

Final Analysis

Despite its College Football Playoff hopes evaporating in a pair of uninspired road losses, Washington can still repeat as Pac-12 champions. That should be motivation enough to get a more lively performance out of the Huskies Saturday at Husky Stadium, where they are undefeated on the season.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington

The loss of linebacker Victor Azeem to indefinite suspension hinders Washington defensively, but the Huskies should not miss him too much against a Utah offense still trying to find its identity. The Utes have struggled since Tyler Huntley's return from injury, never quite establishing a rhythm via the run — and that's put more pressure on a passing attack that still needs refinement.

Darren Carrington III is a big-time playmaker who could give Washington fits, but otherwise, points will come in short supply for Utah.

Prediction: Washington 35, Utah 17

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

(Tyler Huntley photo courtesy of www.utahutes.com)