SALT LAKE CITY — Under Saturday’s dark skies and Rice-Eccles Stadium’s beaming lights, the Utah football team will begin conference play against No. 10 Washington.
The 8 p.m. kickoff will ring in conference play for both programs as they battle in front of a rowdy sea of 45,000 fans dressed in black for Utah’s 11th-annual blackout game. It’s something not only the hometown Utes are exhilarated for, but also the Huskies.
“It’s as good as anywhere we’ve been. It’s how college football should be,” Washington head coach Chris Petersen said of Rice-Eccles Stadium. “It’ll be a packed house.”
The Huskies make sure to have noise every day in practice so they’re prepared when games such as Saturday’s roll around. Petersen said his team finds it “awkward” when their opponents’ stadiums get quiet; it’s just something they’re not used to.
Rice-Eccles was left quiet in 2016 thanks to the Huskies. Washington returned a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the game to beat Utah 31-24. Last season’s game also came down to the wire. The visiting Utes had a 7-point lead in the fourth quarter but gave up 10 points, including a 38-yard field goal as time expired, to the Huskies in the game’s final minutes to lose 33-30.
In the 11 times the two teams have competed against each other, dating back to 1931, Utah has won just twice, with the last victory coming in 2015. Petersen can’t point his finger to exactly why the recent Utah-Washington games are close, but he knows the game will always be a battle.
“It doesn’t matter what time of season it is — early, late, whatever — you know that you are going to be in for a tough, tough game with those guys,” Petersen said.
Entering Saturday, Utah is trying to keep its perfect record with its third win of the season. Washington is coming off a 21-16 loss to Auburn and a 45-3 win against North Dakota. Though it’s just the third week of the season, both hope to start the highly-anticipated conference game with a win in their favor.
“They’re a top team for sure," Petersen said. "We always know when we play Utah that they play extremely hard — well coached and it’ll be a heck of a game.”