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What to watch for: Utah at Washington

What to watch for: Utah at Washington


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In a pivotal game for the Utes as they chase a winning record and a bowl game, they travel to Seattle to play Washington. Both teams have won two games in a row, but a win for the Utes almost certainly guarantees them a bowl game.

Here are five things to watch for on Saturday night when the Utes take on the Huskies at 8:30.

1. Not-so-friendly confines. The Utes have not won a game away from Rice-Eccles Stadium all year, and now they play at one of the toughest places to play in football, college or professional. CenturyLink Field is the home of the Seattle Seahawks and, for this season, the Washington Huskies.

Husky Stadium is under construction and, while it is, Husky fans fill CenturyLink Field and make it as loud if not louder than Seahawk fans do. That’s saying something because in 2011, when the Seahawks beat the heavily favored New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, a nearby seismograph registered a small earthquake.

It will be a test for the Utes and freshman quarterback Travis Wilson to deal with the noise in Seattle. Kyle Whittingham has piped artificial crowd noise into Utah’s indoor practice facility all week, but the real thing can be very different. Look for the Utes to possibly run a little hurry-up offensively to keep the crowd out of it.

2. The continued evolution of the offense. Both offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and Wilson are evolving and improving on a weekly basis. Wilson has been smart and accurate with his throws. Looking back over the film of the four games Wilson has started, he’s really only made three bad throws. That’s saying something for a freshman who’s been tasked with running the spread offense.

That spread offense is beginning to look more and more like the spread offense Ute fans are accustomed to seeing. Johnson is getting the ball more downfield, yet also getting the ball in the hands of John White, the team’s best playmaker.

Ultimately, however, the goal of the spread offense is to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers. With the exception of White, the Ute offense has yet to do that as effectively as it would hope. Can the Utes take the next step toward where it wants to go? If it does, look for a lot of touches by Jake Murphy, Kenneth Scott and Reggie Dunn.

Washington quarterback Keith Price scrambles against California during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Washington quarterback Keith Price scrambles against California during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

3. Which Keith Price will we see? Washington quarterback Keith Price was thought, by many, to be an outside Heisman candidate this season, but he has disappointed. He has been inconsistent at best.The Washington pass offense is just ahead of Utah’s much-maligned pass offense in the Pac-12. It is tenth in the Pac-12 conference. The Huskies average just over 200 yards per game. Now the Huskies rely on Price to simply not lose games for them. If he manages games much like Jon Hays did for the Utes a year ago, Washington feels like it has a good chance to win every game it plays. It’s when Price tries to do too much that the Huskies get into trouble. One thing that Price has going for him against the Utes is his mobility, something that Utah has had a really hard time dealing with in 2012.

4. Stopping the run. With Price so inconsistent, if the Utes can stop the run against Washington, they should be in pretty good shape. Nick Polk was one of the only running backs over the last five years or so to have a really effective game against the Ute run defense last season.

He’s gone, but replacing him is Bishop Sankey. Sankey is fifth in the Pac-12, averaging 95 yards per game. Washington can almost put anyone in the backfield and have success running the ball, in large part due to its run-blocking scheme and ability. The Utes won’t stop the run like they did against Washington State, but if they can contain Sankey, put a Utes win on the board.

5. John White vs. 100. The Utes are now 11-0 when White runs for more than 100 yards, so it seems as if every game is John White vs. the 100-yard mark. White is averaging 4.2 yards per carry this season, and the Utes will have to establish the run on Saturday night.

White and the Utes should be able to do this against the Huskies, who rank 11th, ahead of only Colorado in stopping the run. Washington gives up an average of 192 yards on the ground per game. That is staggering. This game will be won or lost in the trenches. If the Utes can establish the run, they’ll win. I expect Utah to be able to do that, IF Johnson makes a conscious effort to get the ball to White.

Trevor Amicone is the founder of byutahinsiders.com, which covers BYU, Utah and national college football with weekly polls, bowl projections, opinions and analysis. Follow its new Twitter page at @BYUtahInsiders and Amicone's at @TrevorAmicone.

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