SALT LAKE CITY — Talk about an opener. The Utah Utes kick off Pac-12 play against 10th-ranked Washington, the team picked to finish on top of the conference.
"It’s how the schedule lays out and we happen to play the clear-cut favorite according to all of the preseason stuff,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We just have to be ready to go.”
Saturday’s game at Rice-Eccles Stadium is set for 8 p.m., and is being broadcast to a national audience on ESPN. Whittingham is expecting a great environment.
“We should get a great crowd and it is our ‘blackout game’ with a late kickoff,” he said. “We will be ready and we’ll see what we can do.”
After opening the season with victories over Weber State (41-10) and Northern Illinois (17-6), Utah’s schedule now features nine straight Pac-12 opponents. Whittingham insists that preparation and routine remains the same.
“Our players are smart guys and they know this is a big challenge,” he said.
Washington (1-1) opened the season with a 21-16 loss to Auburn in Atlanta. The Huskies bounced back last week with a 45-3 win at home over North Dakota. This is their first true road game.
“We’re going to an extremely hard place to play, harder than where we played back East because we’re truly on their campus,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said at his weekly press conference. “(Utah is) a team that is super well-coached and is going to be one of the better teams in the country when it’s all said and done.”
Although the Huskies lead the all-time series against Utah 10-1, there’s an abundance of respect between the programs. They’ve played some tight games during the past three seasons. Washington prevailed twice, but Utah holds an 88-87 edge in points scored. Last season in Seattle, the Huskies rallied for a 33-30 victory by scoring 10 points in the final minute.
“They’re tough and I feel like that’s a team that we can stand toe-to-toe with because I feel we can handle the toughness and play all four quarters with them,” said Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, adding that the Huskies are fun to play against and are well-coached and come prepared.
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley predicts it’ll be a good game once again. However, he said the Utes have got to be ready to play. He’s confident they’ll do so.
It’s been a common theme as Utah seeks to open Pac-12 play with a victory for the fourth straight year. Washington represents a tall task.
“They haven't changed much. Ever since Coach Pete has been there, they have been the same well-coached, talented team,” Whittingham said. “I don't anticipate a lot of surprises or changes."
There’s a lot of familiarity. Washington senior quarterback Jake Browning grew up in Folsom, California, and was coached in high school by Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor.
“He a guy that just has a great demeanor,” Taylor said. “He’s always the same. There’s not a lot of highs and lows. I think that has served him well throughout his career.”
Taylor added that Browning is a great friend of his family and he roots for him every time the Huskies play anyone but the Utes.11 comments on this story
“The guy’s an assassin once he gets on the field,” Taylor said. “He’s really tough. He’s really competitive.”
Among Browning’s targets is former Provo High receiver Ty Jones. Senior running back Myles Gaskin and junior receiver Aaron Fuller are other players of note on offense. Defensively, the Huskies are paced by senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and junior defensive back Taylor Rapp.
Utes on the air
No. 10 Washington (1-1) at Utah (2-0)
- Rice-Eccles Stadium
- Saturday, 8 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: ESPN 700AM