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Utah gears up for Washington's dynamic offense

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 10:12 a.m. MDT

Washington quarterback Keith Price (17) yells after handing off to Chris Polk as California defenders Cecil Whiteside (14) and D.J. Campbell (7) move in in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, in Seattle. Washington won 31-23.

Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Even the standing-room-only spots are gone for Utah's first Pac-12 home game Saturday against Washington.

"It's going to be electric," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham promised.

He was talking about the atmosphere inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, but he might as well have been referring to the Huskies offense.

Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) has a running back, Chris Polk, who is on the verge of 3,000 career yards rushing. It has a quarterback in Keith Price who already has 14 touchdowns and a pass-efficiency rating that would shatter the school record set by Brock Huard 14 years ago.

And the Huskies have a coach in Steve Sarkisian who knows what it feels like to win in Salt Lake City, even if as BYU's QB in 1996 he pretty much just handed off to backs that rolled up 366 yards rushing in a 20-point victory.

"We're going to have our hands full this week," Utah cornerback Conroy Black said.

Though Utah has never defeated Washington (the last meeting was in 1979), the Utes should be well-rested coming off a bye. They have won 10 straight after a bye, but know the schedule doesn't get much easier — with Arizona State up next followed by a road game to Pitt.

There's no question the matchup to watch Saturday will be Washington's dynamic offense against Whittingham's pressure D.

Utah (2-1, 0-1) is tied for the national lead in fumbles recovered (8) and ranks third in turnover margin —thanks in large part to the seven turnovers forced in a 54-10 win over BYU before its bye. The Utes also are tied for third nationally in red zone defense, stopping opponents on 3 of 6 trips inside the 20, and lead the conference with four interceptions.

"We've prided ourselves on taking care of the ball and creating turnovers and right now Utah is the best in the conference at it," Sarkisian said. "We've got to find a way against this football team Saturday night to minimize their opportunities of getting a short field."

Washington's offense starts with Price, who grew as a player when he made his first start at then-No. 1 Oregon last year and kept the Huskies in the game into the third quarter.

"You never know about a guy completely until he has to play in the game," said Sarkisian, who played and coached under Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "(Price's) numbers weren't great (against Oregon), but I just liked how he handled the situation."

Even Sarkisian couldn't have predicted Price would be tied for the national lead in touchdown passes after four games.

"What sets him apart this year is his ability to make plays when the play breaks down," Whittingham said. "He's exceptional throwing on the move and finding open receivers."

Polk saw his string of 100-yard games end in a 31-23 win over Cal, but he needs just 17 yards rushing to hit 3,000 and join Napoleon Kaufman (4,106) and Joe Steele (3,158) as the only backs in Husky history to reach that benchmark.

"He's on his way to gaining 1,000 yards, probably 1,200," Whittingham said.

Whittingham compared Polk to USC's Marcus Tyler, who ran for 113 yards on 24 carries against the Utes.

While Utah can't expect a defensive effort like it had against BYU (22 carries, 11 yards), it knows it has to keep Polk in check.

Or it has to rely on its offense to keep pace, possibly without top lineman Tony Bergstrom and tight end Jake Murphy because of injury.

Running back John White is healthy and rested, and brimming with confidence after a career-high 174 yards against BYU.

"Because he's such a home-run hitter you need to account for him," Sarkisian said.

Defensively, the Huskies have allowed 125.8 yards rushing a game, and even more through the air (327.5).

"They made stops in the Cal game when they had to," Whittingham said. "They play fast and with great motors and intensity. Things just haven't gone their way ... and they've given up a few (plays).

"The bottom line is they're 3-1."

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