SALT LAKE CITY — As a full-time missionary for his church, Britain Covey had little contact with the Utah football program after his freshman season.
His only sense of how the football team was doing in the two years he was gone was a one-paragraph update each week in an email from his brother Stephen. If he needed more and couldn’t wait for his brother’s weekly update, he might ask someone at church to look up the score on their phone to see how Utah played that week.
In that time, Covey missed two matchups against a Washington program that had become a conference favorite since head coach Chris Petersen took over the reins. They were also two matchups where Utah seemingly had the upper hand and the victory in sight but let it slip through their hands.
In a back-and-forth 2016 matchup, Utah and Washington found themselves tied late in the game. With just over 3 minutes left to play, Washington’s Dante Pettis returned a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown that led to a Huskies 31-24 win. In 2017, Utah held a 7-point lead in the fourth quarter but allowed the Huskies to score 10 points in the final minute, including a 38-yard field goal as time expired, to claim another win.
“Those games must have been so frustrating,” Covey said.
The sophomore receiver said his biggest takeaway after watching the games since he’s come home is that Utah just needs to find a way to finish the game. “You’ve just gotta finish, you’ve gotta come out with a win.”
The lack of finishing drives is what hurt Utah’s offense in its 17-6 win over Northern Illinois Saturday. Quarterback Tyler Huntley completed 64.5 percent of his passes and threw for 286 yards, but the offense stalled throughout the game and struggled to put points on the board.
“Things were there, it just didn't happen,” Huntley said. “It's just like when one person could mess up — one thing could mess up a whole play. I feel like that happened a lot last weekend. If everybody takes care of their job, we'll be fine.”
Washington, too, comes into Saturday’s matchup with questions relating to its program. The Huskies started the season off with a loss to Auburn and a week two blowout win over lesser North Dakota. But Washington only managed 79 yards rushing through three quarters and coaches and players believe they haven’t reached their potential.
“On offense,” Petersen said at his weekly press conference, “we can do better. Certainly running the ball we need to do better.”
Washington enters the road tilt as the favored program ranked 10th in the country, but Utah is not ready to concede any ground. With this matchup coming down to the wire each season, there’s little doubt Saturday’s Blackout game will be any different.
“I feel like in terms of game plan, toughness, players, I feel like we can stand toe-to-toe with those guys,” linebacker Chase Hansen said. “Ultimately, it just comes down to who is gonna make more plays. And I think this week is going to be a huge emphasis on doing your 1/11th. Everyone's got to do their job,”
“I really think that it's important that we go into this game with confidence, just like we did my freshman year,” Covey said, referencing Utah’s last win over Washington. “We can't go in thinking about how we had a rough game this last week. You've got to go in with confidence, and that's why I say you kinda gotta shut things out and practice hard — have a great week of practice — but then go in with confidence.”
Although Utah is looking to rebound from its early-season offensive production struggles, there may be a silver lining to the early issues. Hansen said the Northern Illinois game could be somewhat of a “reality check” or “a good test for us to remind us that everyone’s going to come out” and play Utah tough.
“There's a lot of tough teams, and everyone's gonna come out playing their best ball,” he said. “We've got to be ready right out the gate, not just physically but mentally, which may have been some of the mistakes that were made.”
Utah hosts Washington Saturday in the annual Blackout game at 8 p.m. MDT at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game, which will be the Pac-12 opener for both programs, will be broadcast on ESPN. Washington enters the game as a 6.5-point favorite over the home team.