One of the most compelling games on the college football schedule this week is the Pac-12 showdown between the Washington State Cougars and No. 19 Utah Utes. Oddsmakers list the Utes as six-point favorites at home, with an over/under of 56.5 points.
Washington State got itself booted from the Top 25 after last week’s disastrous loss to UCLA. The Cougars led the game 49-17 midway through the third quarter and looked poised to cruise to another lopsided win. But between a porous defense and six turnovers, the Cougars blew the lead and ended up losing 67-63. Washington State now has little margin for error if it hopes to win the Pac-12 North and reach the conference championship game.
Utah is in a similar position after losing last week’s Pac-12 opener to USC. The Utes were road favorites but got burned by third-string quarterback Matt Fink in a 30-23 loss to the Trojans. After beginning the season as the favorite in the Pac-12 South and a College Football Playoff darkhorse, Utah will need to win out and get help if it wants to reach the Pac-12 title game for the second straight season.
To add injury to insult after last week’s loss, the Utes aren’t sure if quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss will be able to play against Washington State. Huntley appeared to be dealing with a foot injury late in last week’s game with USC, although he has publicly stated that he intends to play against the Cougars. Meanwhile, Moss left the USC loss with a shoulder injury, and it’s anybody’s guess whether he’ll play or not.
If Huntley plays, it’ll be a huge lift for Utah. However, if it’s a foot problem, he may not be as effective as a runner, which is a big part of his game. The Utes also don’t have any proven running backs on the depth chart behind Moss, so playing without him would be a huge loss. With questions about their two most important offensive players, the Utes will have to lean on their defense, which is one of the most talented in the Pac-12 but had a bad game against USC.
Just One Side
Obviously, Washington State knows a thing or two about bad defensive performances. The Cougars looked decent on that side of the ball during the first three-and-a-half games of the season. They even managed to keep a dynamic Houston offense under wraps. But who knows what to expect from the WSU defense after that collapse against UCLA.
The silver lining is that Washington State can usually rely on the offense to pick up the defense. Anthony Gordon threw nine touchdown passes last week and has replaced Gardner Minshew this season without the air-raid offense missing a beat. But the Utah defense figures to provide more resistance than most other teams, so the Cougars may not be able to score points at will the way they did against UCLA.
One of these teams is bound to get a bounce-back win. At home, look for the Utah defense to clamp down on the Washington State passing attack. Meanwhile, as long as Huntley is able to play, the Utes should be in good shape offensively against a suspect Washington State defense. Bet on Utah to survive by a touchdown or so and cover the six-point spread.