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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum looks to throw in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, against McNeese State.

SEATTLE — BYU and Utah are in the thick of Pac-12 North territory this weekend and they’ll have all they can handle. The Cougars take on the league’s darling, No. 11-ranked Washington. The Utes have to deal with Mike Leach, a national treasure quote machine whose teams have become masters of bulk passing.

Washington is favored by 17 over BYU and the Utes are picked by a point or two over Washington State.

Ironically, the key to both of these games is the same. Utah and BYU need to be more effective in the passing game. They need to find consistency, effectiveness, and efficiency. The pass has to be a threat in order to force the Washington and Washington State defenses to stop crowding the line. Dropped passes have been an issue. The Utes and Cougars are twins in this department.

By the same token, there’s praise due for defensive coordinators Ilaisa Tuiaki and Morgan Scalley. You could say they’ve done a good enough job for both BYU and Utah to be undefeated.

On BYU’s side, Tuiaki and his staff have done a remarkable job in throwing a net over Heisman Trophy candidates Khalil Tate (Arizona) and Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin). All the shifting of positions in the secondary, playing freshmen, and the deployment of Sione Takitaki, Zayne Anderson and Corbin Kaufusi have brought big dividends against a schedule ranked 40th in the country.

In 2017, BYU’s defense was 46th in scoring defense; this year it’s at 25th, allowing just 17 points a game. A key for the Cougars is keeping the score down, managing possessions, and avoiding turnovers while getting some of their own. While the offense needs to be almost mistake-free, the Cougars have shown they can win with 100-yard passing games.

Utah leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 12.3 points a game. The Ute front seven is scary and Utah’s four down linemen gave Washington all it could handle in Salt Lake City.

Chase Hansen is working for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and with Gary Andersen onboard, Scalley has another solid defense on the field that will keep the Utes as a physical force in the chase for a division title.

Ravell Call, Deseret News
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley passes during game against Weber State in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.

The big question Saturday is that Utah’s strength of schedule so far is 109th according to Sports-reference.com and WSU’s offense is definitely capable of putting numbers on the board that Utah’s offense may not be able to match if this becomes a track meet.

“You are not going to beat Washington State 21-17,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters this week.

So, both defenses need to keep their opponents' scoring down in the teens or 20s as both offenses try to get some chunk yardage and score every time a chance is available.

This has been a beautiful week in Seattle and Husky Stadium, overlooking beautiful Lake Washington awaits a BYU team that can do something remarkable with an upset. BYU has never played two preseason top-10 teams on the road and to date, it is 1-0 against that challenge with the win over then No. 6 Wisconsin in Madison.

BYU faces one of the best coaches in the country in Chris Petersen. Jeff Grimes has his work cut out for him facing one of the best defenses in the country that sports a secondary of four NFL-bound players.

If BYU pulls off the upset, and it's made fools of the majority who’ve picked them to lose to Arizona and Wisconsin, they’d be atop the Pac-12 standings at 2-1. How would that go down?

The Utes have a simple mission. Utah’s defense will be disruptive of Mike “The Pirate” and his offense, but WSU will still put up some points. This is not your Weber State or Northern Illinois. Utah has to be able to put up points or this could become one home run away from a defeat late in the fourth quarter.

And now, this week’s picks:

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  • Georgia 34, Tennessee 21: Bulldogs more organized, confident.
  • Oregon 34, California 28: Ducks more explosive.
  • West Virginia 48, Texas Tech 44: A real race track here.
  • Virginia 28, North Carolina State 21: Bronco’s defense rules.
  • Central Florida 38, Pittsburgh 21: Greyhound versus turtle.
  • Washington State 28, Utah 21: Mike Leach knows offense.
  • Boise State 31, Wyoming 23: Broncos rule the mountains.
  • Ohio State 38, Penn State 31: Urban Meyer dodges another one.
  • Notre Dame 27, Stanford 21: Golden Domers flex some muscle.
  • Arizona State 24, Oregon State 17: Sun Devils' defense too good.
  • USC 33, Arizona 21: Wildcats still figuring things out.
  • Fresno State 28, Toledo 21: Bulldogs too fast for Midwest boys.
  • Washington 28, BYU 17: Husky defenders control the game.

Last week 14-9; Overall 56-35 (.642)