SALT LAKE CITY — Point production will be at a premium in Pullman. Say that five times real fast.
For the Utah Utes, though, there’s no game within the game Saturday at Washington State. They’ll need to score — and often — in order to defeat the Cougars.
Utah enters its first Pac-12 road game of the season averaging 21.7 points. Since Mike Leach became Washington State’s head coach in 2012, only two teams have scored that many points or less and defeated the Cougars. The last one to do so was Minnesota (17-12 victors) in the 2016 Holiday Bowl.
Sure, there have been instances where less was needed over the years. However, this season isn’t likely to be one. The Cougars are currently scoring at a clip of 41.8 points per game.
“I know you have to be able to score against these guys,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “… I can’t put an exact number on it, but I know you have to be able to generate offense on your own to have a chance in this game.”
In other words, the Utes can ill-afford to bring just a knife to a shootout at Martin Stadium. They’ll likely need firepower that has yet to be shown in games against Weber State, Northern Illinois and Washington.
Utah’s offensive scoring drives this season include seven touchdowns and three field goals. Seven of the possessions came in the season-opening 41-10 win over Weber State. Since then, the offense has managed just two TDs (one against NIU and one against Washington) and a field goal (versus NIU) over the last eight quarters of play.
“You aren't going to beat Washington State 21-17. That is not going to happen. They are prolific on offense, and you have to be able to stick with them,” Whittingham said. “USC was able to put up 39 points, and that is typically what you have to do to beat those guys.”
Although Whittingham said that keeping Washington State’s offense on the sideline is the best way to defend it, he emphasized the importance of putting points on the board as well.
“You have to do both,” he said after stressing that the Utes must score in the process to order to fare very well against the Cougars.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley acknowledged the importance of scoring a lot of points.
“We expect them to put up a lot of points, so we’ve got to play better than them,” he said.
The Utes spent much of their one and only bye week of the season working to iron out deficiencies on offense.
“We just kept focusing on our plays,” said Huntley, who added that the Utes were executing them. “We’ve always got to be ready to play a game and (be) ready to win a game. So whatever we’ve got to do to win a game, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Running back Zack Moss stressed that the goal is to just score more than Washington State.
“It’s definitely got to be more than seven this week,” he said. “So, I mean, it’s going to be fun.”
Moss added that the Utes had two very good practices over the bye week, a lot more focus and energy with guys really wanting to get things done to put on a show Saturday.
Point production, though, is a goal every week for the offense. Moss said they’re determined to score as many points as they can and to do everything they can correctly that’s been practiced.
Moss, who has been hampered by an unspecified lower leg injury, said the bye week has been helpful in getting him healthy.
“My body feels a lot more energized than it did the first couple of weeks,” he said. The junior leads Utah with 283 yards rushing after three games. He’s averaging 15 carries per game and 6.3 yards per attempt. Moss is eager to run the ball more, perhaps 20-25 times each game.
“That’s why I came here,” he said.37 comments on this story
As for getting frustrated or anything like that, Moss counters such thoughts by trying to keep a “level head” as much as he can when other guys look at him as the team focuses on the game ahead.
"Zack is a talented player and we need to feed him the ball. He is very effective when he does have the ball in his hand,” Whittingham said. “So that is something that is obvious when you look at our first three games. We have to play to our strengths a little bit more."
Utah (2-1, 0-1) at Washington State (3-1, 0-1)
Martin Stadium — Pullman, Wash.
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM