UTAH IS GOING to try and run the ball against the Cougs. Wazzu is going to try and do to Utah on the ground what it did to Stanford.
At 3-5, Utah is suddenly optimistic after thrashing Cal. The Ute's 49-27 victory over Cal was impressive, but with 2 kickoff returns and a fumble return for a touchdown, a ton of breaks went Utah's way. So what might that mean this week when it comes to WSU vs. Utah?
Some believe Kyle Wittingham is now on the verge of turning around a very disappointing season. Others think last week was more anomaly than anything else and a ton of work stands between Utah and bowl eligibility.
Utah is unlikely to take any opponent lightly, but the Cougars feel like they left some unfinished business on the table last season and are rolling into Salt Lake with a score to settle.
THE UTES ON OFFENSE
| Cougars (2-6) vs Utes (3-5)|
AT A GLANCE
12:00 pm Pacific Time
Rice-Eccles Stadium (46,500)
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Utah -11 (opened at 12.5)
2011, Utah won 30-27 in Overtime.
WSU is 5-6 in the series.
Cougs 21, Utes 17
Players to Know
John White IV, RB: The All-Conference selection is well off last year's 1,519 rushing yard pace (518 yards through eight games.) Teams are paying far more defensive attention to him in an effort to put pressure on Utah's young quarterback. Still, White is a burner who never seems to wear down.
Travis Wilson, QB: Wittingham is trying to ask the freshman quarterback to do as little as possible. At 6-6, 230 pounds, he has the physical build and decent mobility, but he lacks the ability to decipher complex defenses. Despite completing 65 percent of his throws, he has just two passing touchdowns and four picks in eight appearances this season.
Jake Murphy, TE: The sophomore leads all receivers with 26 receptions for 276 yards and 3 scores.
Utah brings a very similar attack to what Stanford did last week: ground-and-pound with a bit of a liability at the quarterback position. Their best receiver is a tight end, and the entire group lacks big play ability. When Utah scores, it is typically on long, grinding drives.
WSU should be able to build off what worked last week. Focus on run defense and pressure Wilson. The Cougars are putting themselves in a position to create turnovers -- hitting the quarterbacks and swatting passes. They just have not caught a break yet.
113 – Utah’s ranking in total offense. Utah ranks 106th in rushing and 97th in passing and while they were a statistical revelation last week, they really do not have anything to truly hang their hat on offensively.
THE UTES ON DEFENSE
Players to Know
Possibly the premier nose tackle in the country. At 6-4, 320 pounds, he is a mountain of a man and a serious mismatch for WSU's shaky offensive line. He was, however, held in check a couple weeks ago by Oregon State.
What Utah's 4-3 lacks in speed, they make up for in discipline. Outside of Lotulelei, there isn't a lot of “star power” but overall they bend but don't break. The play of a veteran, if unremarkable secondary, will likely be the deciding factor in the game.
Keep an extra blocker on Lotulelei and hold on to the football. Utah has forced 24 fumbles this season, a point of emphasis with Wittingham. Deep passes should be rewarded though -- just like last season. Test any single coverages over the top.
99 – Utah’s ranking in pass efficiency defense. Utah has two senior starting corners and hasn't faced a ton of potent passing teams, but they've given up a lot of big passing plays and have only generated three interceptions on the year.
THE UTES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Colem Peterson has not converted a field goal since September 15 and is just 3-for-8 on the season. After returning two kickoffs for touchdowns last week, expect Reggie Dunn, who ran back two for scores last week, to bring anything he touches out of the end zone.
-It is hard to play well on the road in back to back weeks, but if WSU plays against Utah as they did against Stanford, they should win this one. With WSU needing to win out to become bowl eligible, it is a question of heart at this point.
-The performance of Utah's defense and special teams helped them put up big numbers against Cal, but this offense simply struggles to score most of the time. WSU cannot come out flat, though, and must bring forth a solid defensive effort from start to finish.
-Injuries have decimated the Utes and they currently project to start nine freshman and sophomore against WSU – most at skill positions.
-The weather in Pullman has been colder and wetter than Salt Lake City, which has experienced unseasonable warmth the last few weeks. The forecast for Saturday looks downright balmy, with a high of 63 degrees and lots of sunshine. There remains an outside chance of a rainstorm on Saturday and though it’s unlikely, if it does rain it won't catch the Cougars unprepared.