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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utes are bowl eligible and Washington State is fighting for dear life, scratching and clawing to try and make it to a bowl. The Cougars are coming off an historic win for the program over Arizona State and the Utes have won three in a row in the Pac-12. A loss for Washington State and its hopes of going to a bowl game are out the window. Here’s what to watch for when the Utes travel to Pullman, Wash., to play the desperate Cougars.
1. Can Halliday repeat? Washington State freshman quarterback Connor Halliday went off on the Sun Devils last week, throwing for a freshman school record 494 yards. He also threw four touchdowns and no interceptions in the game, going 27-of-36 in the game. Halliday was incredibly efficient, but can he do it against a team that’s had time to prepare for him? Halliday came into the game last week after stepping in on the third series of the game against Arizona State. He threw an 85- yard touchdown pass on his first play from scrimmage. Starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who ASU had game planned for, never saw the field again. So the question remains, can Halliday do it again against a team that is game planning for him? Not to mention, can he do it against the best defense in the Pac-12?2. Lovely weather in Pullman this time of year. At the time this article was written, the weather forecast for Pullman over the weekend calls for temperatures in the 20s and a legitimate chance of snow, according to Weather Underground. This could dictate what both teams do offensively. The weather was similar in Pullman last weekend when the Cougars’ offense lit up the Sun Devils. Utah, meanwhile, lit up UCLA in a different kind of way. It was more like a White-out amidst the snow as John White IV was the story once again, running for 167 yards on 33 carries. Washington State tends to load the box whenever they can and let their secondary man up against the receivers. Normally the Utes would love this matchup with their wide receivers, but in the snow it might be more difficult for Jon Hays to take advantage of it. It’ll be interesting to see which offense handles the inclement weather better.
3. Pressure on the quarterbacks. Washington State ranks toward the bottom of the conference in sacks, with only 14 on the season, but it seems to come up with big sacks in big situations. That’s partly because it tries to bring lots of different blitzes on third down. Utah, meanwhile, ranks third in the conference in sacks with 28 and Washington State is tied for last in the conference, having given up 29 sacks on the season. Utah has also struggled in that category, having given up 25 on the season. We may be seeing a lot of grass stains on the backs of the two quarterbacks on Saturday, but who will come up with the big sacks in big situations?
4. Ute trends. There are a couple of things that, if the Utes accomplish them, they win. It is becoming far more than a trend. One of them is John White IV. When White runs for more than 100 yards, the Utes are 6-0. When he doesn’t, the Utes are 0-4. If the Utes get ahead early or stay in the game, expect a steady dose of White and a chance at 100. The other trend is that when the Utes don’t turn it over, they win. Hays has not turned it over since the Cal game a month ago. No doubt about it, that has been a large part of their resurgence during the second half of the season. Will it continue in the wet, cold weather in Pullman? If it does, the Cougars’ season is over. 5. Matchup to watch: Connor Halliday vs. Ute defense. The Utah secondary has improved and did a solid job against pass-heavy Arizona two weeks ago. Halliday, however, showed extremely amazing accuracy last week against ASU, something that Arizona quarterback Nick Foles struggled with in Tucson a couple weeks ago. The Cougars are a well-balanced team, but they may throw it more against the Utes’ impressive front seven. If the Utes can get pressure on Halliday, they should win this matchup and run away with the game.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". Find more of his blogs at TrevorsTopTens.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TrevorAmicone