The Washington Huskies are coming off an impressive 28-15 Apple Cup victory over the Washington State Cougars this past weekend.
What the win did was deliver the Huskies a Pac-12 North Division title and place them into the Pac-12 Championship game.
This week, the Huskies will face the Utah Utes in a rematch that will crown the winner the champion of the Pac-12 conference.
On the season, the Utes have battled through injuries and clawed their way to a Pac-12 South Division title with a 9-3 overall record.
Utah is always a tough matchup, because of the physicality in which they play with and stout defense they pride themselves on.
Even though the Huskies beat the Utes 21-7 in Salt Lake City, Utah earlier this season, Washington head coach Chris Petersen is not taking them lightly.
“I know this: Our guys have tremendous respect for Utah playing them the first time. We knew that was a really good football team. And they’ll watch the tape and see this is even a better Utah team. They’ve stayed really healthy on defense. Have a couple guys in there who are playing more than when we played them the first time. They’re playing at a really, really high level.” Petersen said earlier this week.
The reward for winning this game is a berth into the Rose Bowl, and the Huskies are fully motivated to return to the “Grandaddy of Them All”. It has been 18 years since their last appearance in Pasadena, California and they are eager to return.
Here are some keys to the game that the Huskies must do in order to put themselves in a good position to win this game…..
No Rose Bowl Daydreaming
Coming into this game, it can be human nature for the Huskies to glance ahead and start “daydreaming” about the Rose Bowl. Let’s face it…these are 18-22 year old kids and the emotion factor plays a big part in the game of college football. The Huskies just came off their biggest win of the season against the Washington State Cougars, and the game was extremely emotional for them. That game in itself felt like a championship intensity atmosphere for the Huskies. The Pac-12 Championship is a rematch game for the Huskies, against a Utes team that they already beat by double digits on the road earlier in the season. The Huskies have to realize that Utah is a much-improved version from that game. They cannot start making plans for the Rose Bowl and assume they will be there until they handle their business against the Utes. The Rose Bowl isn’t going anywhere…it will still be there after the game ends!
Offensive Line Needs To Get Push
The biggest strength and factor when facing Utah is how physical and talented their defense is. This game features a couple of teams that rank as the top two in the conference in defense. Utah’s defensive line will try to get into the backfield of the Huskies and disrupt their offense. It’s no secret that the strength and identity of the Husky offense is their running game, and that all starts with senior star Myles Gaskin. The Huskies are 19-1 in games where Gaskin rushes for over 100 yards, and the last three games Gaskin has been able to accomplish that. The Utes will try to load the box and stop #9 which means the offensive line for the Huskies will have to get some push. They will need to win the battle in the trenches and open up some holes for Gaskin to run through. The offense line was fantastic in the Apple Cup and will need to continue that trend this week.
Browning Will Have To Take Some Shots Down The Field
With the Utes bringing pressure all game long and loading the box to try to stop Gaskin, senior quarterback Jake Browning will have to take some shots down the field. Sometimes the game plan is simple and other times its complex but just taking what the defense is giving you can be successful. Whether Gaskin is successful or not, Utah will not deviate from their game plan of selling out to stop the run against the Huskies. What that means for the Huskies is taking advantage of those one-on-one matchups and taking some shots down the field with explosive plays. Those big chunks of yards can be demoralizing to a defense which will directly cause the Utes defense to have to adjust. This will soften “the box” and give Gaskin more room to run with gaining big yards as the game goes along. The Huskies can hurt Utah with the play action pass and keep them off-balance all game long.
Put Pressure On The Backup Quarterback
During the first matchup against the Utes, the Huskies were able to contain starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and kept him in check the entire game. This time around, Huntley will not be playing as he suffered a broken collarbone and is out for the season. Utah backup quarterback Jason Shelley is a true freshman and has never played on the big stage before, against a vaunted defense like the Huskies possess. The Huskies must put constant pressure on Shelley all game long and make him feel the pressure of the moment, with forcing him into some mistakes. The Husky defense is no doubt elite, evidenced by how they shut down Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew last week, after the season he has had. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake is going to throw the “kitchen sink” at Shelley, and force him to have to respond under pressure and perform in the moment on the big stage!
Deliver Punishing Hits Again
Much of the talk has been about Utah’s physical brand of football but what about the Huskies too? When these two teams played earlier in the season, the main headline of the game was the physicality the Huskies brought into the game. That performance on defense was reminiscent of the 1990’s “All I Saw Was Purple” swarming defense under Don James. Back in September, the Huskies delivered punishing hit after punishing hit! It set the tone for the entire game and had the Utes completely rattled. Utah wide receiver Britain Covey was knocked around the field like a rag doll that game, and the “Death Row Dawgs” intimidated the Utes offense all night. In this game, the Huskies will have to deliver more punishing hits, and take the “will” away from the Utah offense once again. With a backup quarterback in the fold for the Utes, the Husky defense must send a message from the start and instill fear into the minds of the Utes.