Utah has the nation’s top defense. Washington State has the Pac-12’s top passing offense and is known for its prolific scoring ability.
Something has to give when the two face each other in Pullman on Saturday.
The Utes (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) are coming off a bye week while Washington State (3-1, 0-1) let a 13-point third-quarter lead slip away and lost to Southern California 39-36 last week.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is under no illusions that his defense will be able to completely shut down the Cougars’ Air Raid offense, which is averaging 41 points per game.
“You’re not going to beat Washington State 21-17,” Whittingham said “That’s not going to happen.”
Instead, the Utes need to rev up their underperforming offense, he said. That definitely includes the passing game.
The Utes are “trying to get that thing jump-started,” Whittingham said. “That’s something that starts with coaching.”
Quarterback Tyler Huntley is mobile, but needs better protection after being sacked 10 times in three games.
Utah scored just seven points in a loss to No. 11 Washington in its last game, and just 17 points in beating Northern Illinois.
“USC was able to put up 38 points (actually 39) and that is typically what you have to do to beat those guys,” Whittingham said. “You just have to score points.”
Washington State coach Mike Leach is wary of a Utah defense that is No. 1 in the nation in allowing just 12.3 points and 204 yards per game.
“They are really physical,” Leach said. “Kyle always has a philosophy of defense. Their defense is very aggressive.”
Things to know when Washington State hosts Utah:
STRENGTH VS STRENGTH: Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew runs an offense that leads the Pac-12 and is second in the nation with an average of 401 passing yards per game. He’ll be challenged by a defense that allows just 93 passing yards per game.
BYU CONNECTION: Leach and Whittingham both attended BYU at the same time in the late 70s and early 80s. Whittingham was a star linebacker and Leach was working toward his law degree. Now they are two of the longest-tenured coaches in the Pac-12, with Whittingham in his 14th year and Leach in his seventh. “He’s a good guy, sharp guy, knows about defense and does a good job,” Leach said.
STREAKING COUGARS: Washington State has won nine straight home games, the Cougars’ longest streak since winning nine in a row from 1941-46 (there was no football in 1943-44 because of the war). This is Utah’s first trip to Pullman since 2013.
MOSS ROLLS: The week off was good for Utah running back Zach Moss, who was hampered by an ankle injury in the loss to Washington. “My whole, entire body feels better than it did the first couple of games,” Moss said. “That’s what a bye week does for you.” Moss rushed 13 times for 67 yards against Washington on Sept. 15.
FABULOUS EASOP: Washington State receiver Easop Winston Jr. may be just 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, but Leach said he has huge hands that have helped him catch 18 passes and four touchdowns in four games. “It is astounding,” Leach said. “They’re huge.” Winston caught six passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns against Southern California.