SALT LAKE CITY —
Things appear to have turned around for the University of Utah football team. After losing four in a row to begin Pac-12 play, Kyle Whittingham's team has now won back-to-back games for the first time this season.
The Utes did what they should have done — they beat two lesser teams at home. Now comes the real test, getting it done on the road and against better competition. Utah has yet to win away from Rice-Eccles Stadium this season, and if the Utes have hopes of becoming bowl eligible, they'll have to figure out a way to get that done.
That quest starts Saturday night in Seattle against the Washington Huskies, a team that is extremely tough to beat at home. Steve Sarkisian's team is 4-1 at home this year, with its only loss coming against USC, 24-14. The Huskies have beaten two top-10 teams, Stanford and Oregon State, at CenturyLink Field.
A year ago, Washington was off the charts talented on offense, but among the worst teams in college football on defense. So it was out with Nick Holt, who ran the defense, and in with Justin Wilcox, a 35-year-old graduate of Oregon who has directed defenses at Boise State and Tennessee during the last six years. While this UW defense won't be confused for the '85 Bears, it is markedly better than it was a year ago.
What isn't better, and frankly is much worse, is the Washington offense. Despite the return of one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in Keith Price, the Huskies' offense has struggled big-time this season. At the heart of the problem has been the offensive line, which has given up 26 sacks through nine games, causing Price to take a ton of hits and look a tad shell-shocked at times.
Price's numbers reflect it, too, with nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions on the season.
All of which is not to say that Washington doesn't have weapons. Bishop Sankey has had a nice season with 855 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (632 yards, 4 TDs) and Kason Williams (547 yards, 4 TDs) are solid playmakers in the pass game.
If Utah is going to grab its first road win of the season, here are three things that need to happen:
1) Generate pressure on Keith Price. If Utah has hopes of beating Washington this weekend, the front four must pressure and sack the Huskies' quarterback.
2) Feed the Wolfman! The Huskies' defense is yielding 192 yards a game on the ground. The last two weeks, John White has begun to look like the guy that ran for more than 1,500 yards a year ago. This week could potentially be his best of the season.
3) Don't beat yourself. Whether it's turnovers, drops or blown assignments, Utah hasn't helped its own cause in a couple of winnable games this season. Those issues have gone away the last couple of weeks against lesser teams. Now let's see if that trend can continue on the road.
Bill Riley is the co-host of the Bill and Hans Show weekdays from 2-6 p.m on ESPN 700 AM. You can follow Bill on Twitter @espn700bill.