The Utah Utes and Washington Huskies meet in what some people might regard as a surprising matchup for the Pac-12 Championship. No, Washington in the championship is no surprise at all, that was expected at the beginning of the season. However, Utah topping the Pac-12 South could be a mini-upset to casual observers. Was it really, though? Everyone else in the division were in a bit of a transitioning phase. Take for instance Arizona State who finished 2nd in the division.
It was Herm Edwards first season as the head coach, so there was expected to be a learning curve in the program. They actually did have a better than anticipated year. Then there is USC who is always a popular pick to win the Pac-12 South. They are the defending Pac-12 Champions, though they had Sam Darnold then and have a freshman under center in 2018. UCLA had a new coach with Chip Kelly, Arizona had to deal with a banged up Khalil Tate, and Colorado faded off into irrelevancy. That left a perfect storm for Utah to capture the division and head to the Pac-12 Championship.
Despite the down year in the division, Utah deserve to be in this game. A talented defense can take you places, especially in the Pac-12 and we have in this matchup is the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses of the conference going at it for the championship. Both units are awfully physical and can make it difficult on opposing offenses to move the ball.
The Utes would love to have their starting quarterback in this game, Tyler Huntley, but at best he will might be back for their bowl game. Jason Shelley has filled in to provide Utah with a suitable replacement, though. What has been most important is that his skill set is similar to Huntley, so the angle of attack and playbook doesn’t change.
That’s especially important for the offensive line who must deal with a separate cadence and rhythm. The Huskies will easily be the best defense he has seen in his brief career. This will be the fifth time in Myles Gaskin and Jake Browning’s careers that they’ve played Utah. We’ll see if they go out with a win after three of four wins, the only loss when Browning was a freshman. Get our free Pac-12 Championship pick between Utah and Washington below.
Utah Utes vs. Washington Huskies Pac-12 Championship Betting Odds:
vs. Washington -5(-110)
Betting odds provided by Sportsbetting.ag
Utah vs. Washington Pick:
This will be the second meeting of the year for Utah and Washington. They had an early season September matchup, which resulted in a 21-7 win for Washington in Utah on the 15th. Huntley was held in check with just 138 yards passing and an interception. He won’t be able to get any payback on the Huskies, as that will have to happen with Shelley at the controls.
Shelley has passed for 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, with 56.3% completions. He poses the same threat as Huntley on the ground. Shelley has rushed for 159 yards and 3 touchdowns. Note that he has only had three starts in his career, though. Those came against Oregon, Colorado, and BYU. His decision making isn’t going to be as sharp as Huntley this point in his career.
He must pace the Utah offense against a defense that rank 13th in the nation with 311 yards allowed per game. Overall, the Huskies have surrendered only 16.5 points per game. It’s not ideal that Utah must go into this game with an inexperience quarterback against an experienced defense. Not only are the Utes down Huntley, but they are down their starting running back, Zack Moss, too. That leaves 6.1 yards per carry out of this game. Instead, look for Armand Shyne to get the brunt of the carries. He has rushed for 442 yards on a 4.9 yards per carry average.
Gaskin chewed up the Utah defense for 143 yards in their first meeting this season. Browning did just enough with 155 yards passing, a touchdown, and interception, but it was Gaskin who was the difference. Note, though, the Utes’ run defense has improved considerably since that game. Utah are 5th in the FBS with 100.3 yards per game allowed on the ground. They’re just behind Washington overall, with 316 yards allowed per game for 15th in the nation, So, just 5 yards separates the two defensive units. If you like physical football, this is going to the game for you this weekend. Expect a closer final score than in September, but it should be a game dominated by defense again. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl, so the stakes are high. A 23-20 or 24-17 final looks accurate at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Friday night.