SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - The early-season schedule continues to do No. 12 Washington no favors. Two weeks after opening the season with a hard-fought 21-16 loss to No. 7 Auburn in Atlanta, the Huskies kick off Pac-12 play Saturday night with a road game at undefeated Utah.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Washington -6.5
Washington routed FCS-member North Dakota 45-3 in between, but now faces back-to-back conference tests against Pac-12 South teams currently off to 2-0 starts. “I think if you have it your ideal way, you probably like to play your nonconference (games) first,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We just have so much more building to do ... and then you (have) this really meaningful, impactful game against a really good opponent. It’s just the way the schedule has fallen this year.” The game also serves as the Pac-12 opener for Utah, which has started the season with wins over Weber State (41-10) and Northern Illinois (17-6) but now steps up big time to face the nationally-ranked preseason conference favorite. “It’s how the schedule lays out, and we happen to play the clear-cut favorite,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at his Monday news conference. “We just have to be ready to go.”
ABOUT WASHINGTON (1-1)
The Huskies are pinning much of their hopes on senior quarterback Jake Browning, but he’s off to an uneven start, completing 59.4 percent of his passes with as many interceptions (three) as touchdown passes so far. Tailback Myles Gaskin rushed for 75 yards against Auburn but was held to 53 on 15 carries against North Dakota while notching his first TD run of the season. On the other side of the ball, linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has tallied a team-best 22 tackles, but the Huskies are hungry for turnovers after coming away with only one fumble recovery and no interceptions in their first two outings.
ABOUT UTAH (2-0)
The Utes’ defense is off to an impressive start, leading the FBS in total defense (143.5 yards allowed per game) and passing yards allowed (62.0). Linebacker Chase Hansen, a converted safety, is a key reason why, earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors after totaling 12 tackles, including a pair of sacks, recovering a fumble and returning an interception 40 yards for a TD to seal the win over the Huskies. On the season, dual-threat quarterback Tyler Huntley has thrown for 565 yards, four TDs and one interception while tailback Zack Moss has totaled 246 yards from scrimmage and has scored a trio of touchdowns.
1. Washington has dominated the series, winning 10 of the 11 meetings, but Utah has played the Huskies tough, winning 34-23 on the road in 2015 and dropping hard-fought 31-24 and 33-30 decisions the last two seasons.
2. In the loss to Auburn, Gaskin became Washington’s all-time leading rusher and currently ranks 10th in Pac-12 history with 4,183 yards.
3. Special teams looked to be a strength for Utah entering the season, but the Utes have had a field goal blocked and a punt return turnover in each of their two games.
PREDICTION: Utah 27, Washington 24
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