Pac-12 Conference Championship Preview
The No. 11 Washington Huskies and the No. 17 Utah Utes both will likely not enter the College Football Playoff, but there is still a high chance for the winner to play in the Rose Bowl or a New Year's Six Bowl. The Huskies (9-3, 7-2) clinched the Pac-12 North division by upsetting Washington State on the road last weekend and will have another difficult task competing against the Pac-12 South champs in the Utes (9-3, 6-3).
Washington had a shaky start to the season, but is playing well at the right time. The Huskies three losses are all on the road and have all been within five points. Last week, the team returned its starting tight end and offensive tackle in Hunter Bryant and Trey Adams, respectively. The return of Bryant and Adams was a huge boost for the offense, as Washington rushed for 258 yards in Pullman.
Despite Utah’s strong rushing defense, the Huskies’ running game should continue its dominance Friday night led by senior Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Gaskin has over 1000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the season and is one of the most underrated players in college football.
Most of the team’s offense relies on quarterback Jake Browning, who is a four-year starter. Browning is an excellent quarterback who has thrown for 2,692 yards this season while adding 16 touchdowns. The balanced attack from the Huskies will be difficult to stop.
The Huskies defense isn’t the same as last year after losing defensive tackle Vita Vea to the draft. However, a team led by Ben Burr-Kirven holds opponents to 16 points per game. The team struggles to put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but has a strong resistance against the run. This will be pivotal because the Utes are hoping to keep Browning off the field by taking control of the ball and succeeding in the running game.
The Utes won a weak Pac-12 South division that only had two teams finish with a winning record. The team started the season 2-2 and lost to Washington 21-7 in Salt Lake City earlier this year. However, the team has won seven out of its last eight games after beating its rival in BYU last week. The Utes have struggled with injuries this year in running back Zack Moss and quarterback Tyler Huntley. However, dual-threat quarterback Jason Shelly has stepped up for the Utes.
Utah’s defense is going to have to be imperative in order for them to have success against Washington. The Huskies are a balanced attack, but Utah leads the Pac-12 in tackles for loss and has an excellent pass rush. The team also has the nation’s best punter, which will be crucial down the stretch if the game is close.
Friday Night at Levi’s stadium will be an entertaining game, as the Utes are riding a hot streak into the game. However, they still lost to Washington in Salt Lake City with their starting running back and quarterback. Playing without those two players will certainly make the game challenging against a physical and dominant Husky defense. Washington should have little issue in trying to win their second Pac-12 title in the last three years and furthering their chances of entering the Rose Bowl.
Matthew White is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism with a double minor in Spanish and Business. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.