SEATTLE — Utah’s climb back to .500 is but one step away. Unfortunately for the Utes, that step could be real difficult. They take on Washington Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, a place where the Huskies have this seasonalready taken down nationally ranked Stanford and Oregon State.
The home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, where Washington is playing its home games this year while Husky Stadium is being renovated, is well known for being a loud venue. Seattle crowds have been measured to be in the same decibel range as a Boeing 747. During an NFL playoff game in 2011, the noise reportedly registered as a minor earthquake on one play.
“Obviously the crowd noise is a definite factor at CenturyLink Field,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who also noted that Husky Stadium is loud as well. “So It’s been a good experience for us playing there.”
The Huskies are 4-1 at their home away from home.
“That stadium is loud. It’s acoustically designed for volume,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “So we’re going up there with an us-against-the-world mentality and that’s how you have to operate on the road.”
At 4-5 overall, the Utes faces an uphill battle. They need two more wins to become bowl eligible.
Progress, though, is being made. Utah has won two straight games, scoring 49 points in each while getting significant contributions on offense, defense and special teams.
Whittingham credits the players’ attitude, work ethic and leadership for not allowing things to go sideways after a disappointing 2-5 start to the season.
“Everyone just continues to work hard,” Whittingham said while praising his team for staying the course and respecting the process.
A signature road win is next on Utah’s list of things to do. The Utes are 0-4 away from Rice-Eccles Stadium this season. They’ve dropped games at Utah State, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State.
“We need, as a football team, to start performing better on the road,” Whittingham acknowledged. “And I think once you start to get the road wins under your belt it develops confidence as well.”
Utah’s play in recent weeks has provided a much-needed boost.
“It’s just what we’re doing,” said senior running back John White. “We’re playing with a lot more confidence and everybody is playing well."
The offense, in particular, stepped up in victories over California (49-27) and Washington State (49-6). White topped 100 yards in both games, upping the Utes’ record to 11-0 over the past two years when he reached the milestone.
A consistent run game has accompanied the development of true freshman quarterback Travis Wilson, who completed 17-of-21 passes last week against Washington State.
“I’ve definitely grown in the passing game but we’ve also grown tremendously in the running game,” Wilson said. “John White’s been doing a great job with that. He’s been running hard. He’s been running physical. He’s been making big plays.”
It’s a mentality, Wilson added, that the Utes plan to stick with the rest of the season — execute everything.
On special teams, Reggie Dunn has set the tone with three 100-yard kick returns over the past two weeks.
“Those returns have been really boosting to our team and really just gave us more confidence,” Wilson said. “They’ve been big impact plays.”
So much so, in fact, that the Utes plan to utilize Dunn’s speed on offense more often down the stretch.
Then there’s the highly touted defense. Utah had a shutout going until the final play of last Saturday’s win over Washington State.
Sarkisian knows all about the Utes defensively. He called senior tackle Star Lotulelei a tremendous player and noted that he has respect for Utah’s entire defensive front.
Even so, there’s plenty of other storylines surrounding the Utes’ first appearance in Seattle since 1979.
The Huskies (5-4, 3-3) are seeking bowl eligibility in their home finale. Like Utah, they’ve won two straight after a lengthy skid.
The Utes, meanwhile, have revenge as an additional motivation. After losing to the Huskies 31-14 last season in Salt Lake City, they’re eager to even the ledger.
“We owe these guys,” said junior linebacker Trevor Reilly. “They came in and beat us pretty good at home.”
More importantly for Utah, however, is doing whatever it takes to keep a nine-year run of winning seasons and bowl appearances going. The Utes are determined to send their seniors out that way. A victory over Washington, obviously, moves that quest forward.
“It’s huge,” Reilly emphasized.
Utah closes out the regular season with a home game against Arizona and a road trip to Colorado.