First Look: Utah State vs. Washington
USU sets sail for Seattle in Week three
Aggies get a brutal road test
After back-to-back home tilts against Washington State and Southern Utah, Utah State will embark on the road for the first time in 2020 against the physically-minded Huskies. Even without the services of former head coach Chris Petersen, this Husky defense is going to be strong and look to punish an Aggie team that will doubtlessly be searching for its identity. The game is set for Sept. 19 but the TV network has not been announced.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Mascot: Harry the Husky & Dubs
2019 Record: 8-5
Head Coach: Jimmy Lake (Overall 0-0). There is no question Lake has big shoes to fill with the sudden departure of Chris Petersen last season. Luckily for the Huskies, the transition is all but guaranteed to be smooth with the amount of defensive experience Lake has to his name. He has been at Washington as a defensive assistant for the last six seasons, two of which he was the co-defensive coordinator and the last two as the full-time defensive coordinator.
Despite the loss of nine starters from 2018, Lake’s defensive unit limited opponents to 19.4 points per game in 2019, good for 15th best in the country. Though the Huskies’ record last year was disappointing, the defense kept them in every game and ensured all but one of their losses was within one score. This defense hits hard and makes absolutely nothing easy for its opposition. Lake helped build the culture at U-Dub into what it is under Chris Petersen and it’s genuinely terrific.
Quick Series Snapshot: Washington leads 2-0
These two schools have only played twice. In 1998, Dave Arslanian’s Aggie team got utterly embarrassed and dominated 53-12. The game was so bad it even prompted Arslanian to say in the post-game press conference this gem: “I must be a lousy football coach. I’ve never seen that bad of a performance. I apologize, especially to the Huskies, for being the inept opponent we were today.”
The Aggies at least showed up in the 2015 game. After a competitive first half, the defense faltered and the offense sputtered in a 31-17 loss. Then freshman QB Jake Browning showed off his arm and torched a largely helpless secondary, previewing to the college world how good of a career he was going to have in Seattle.
Washington Huskies, 2019 Season:
Though a few highlight games provided great thrills, the 2019 season will go down as a “what if” type of season for U-Dub fans.
The Huskies took care of business against their FCS foe Eastern Washington with ease in week one. The next week, they surprised everyone (including Cal fans) after losing a defensive slug-fest in Seattle to the Golden Bears. Cal got the go-ahead field goal with under ten seconds to go and Husky QB Jacob Eason couldn’t make late-game magic.
After the bitter loss, the Huskies righted the ship with three solid wins in a row against Hawaii, BYU, and USC. Washington dominated all three games and looked like a shoo-in for the Pac-12 North Division winners.
The Huskies then lost control of their season as quickly as they seemed to initially tame it. They lost three of their next four games, and each loss was a heartbreaker worse than the one before. Losses to the Ducks, Utes, and Cardinal all but ensured Washington would not head back to the Pac-12 championship game. Adding insult to injury, they even lost a road contest against a poor Colorado team in Boulder.
The Huskies closed out their 2019 campaign on a good note, however. They scored dominant wins against their in-state rival Washington State and then granted Chris Petersen the last laugh in a romp against Boise State in the Las Vegas bowl.
With the departure of Jacob Eason, U-Dub is going to have a QB competition on its hands. Unfortunately for the Huskies, none of their prospects have much experience in games and not a single one has thrown a touchdown pass on game day. With inexperience and a new offensive coordinator comes growing pains. SO Jacob Sirmon is the early favorite to win the role, but FR Ethan Garbers and Dylan Morris can make it interesting in the coming weeks.
Though quarterback is an unmistakable weakness at this point, Washington still has excellent recruits and some proven playmakers on their offense. SO RB Richard Newton is expected to carry most of the load this season and SR Sean McGrew is more than capable of having a breakout performance. Newton had good numbers last season with 514 yards gained on 117 attempts, garnering 10 touchdowns. McGrew was used less but had a higher rushing average per play. Both of these runners saw less time than star rusher Salvon Ahmed last season, but they are now well prepared to carry the offense while their QB finds his feet in the scheme.
The Huskies return a pair of JR receivers in Cade Otton and Terrell Bynum to take over for Aaron Fuller and Hunter Bryant from 2019. Though their receptions last year are dwarfed by the graduated seniors, Otton and Bynum still totaled up more than 340 yards each to go along with their combined four touchdown grabs. They’ll undoubtedly need to help out their QB and get open against the DBs they match up against or else this offense could have the tendency to sputter.
Unlike the question marks they have on offense, Washington is in excellent shape on the defensive side of the ball. SR Elijah Molden is back at corner and he’ll be looking to build on a stellar junior year where he tallied up 79 total tackles and made first-team All Pac-12. SR Keith Taylor will help Molden out at the other corner and is no slouch with 59 total tackles in 2019. This secondary allowed just over 222 yards per game last year and I expect them to improve due to the overall increased age and maturity of the unit.
At linebacker, the Huskies have some big bodies to work with. SO Edefuan Ulofoshio should increase his production from last year and JR Joe Tryon will be an absolute load for opposing offenses to plan against. Tryon is bigger than your typical LB and he can slide into the defensive line as a DE as well. He’s multi-talented and is slated to be a high round NFL draft pick for 2021. When SR Ryan Bowman is on the field as well, there will be many frightened QBs who don’t want to run into either of them.
The defensive line has a couple of stars who will certainly cause havoc for the Huskies. SR Levi Onwuzurike nabbed 45 tackles last season and a couple of sacks. SR Josiah Bronson rounds out the upperclassmen on the line and will need to step up his production from last season for this unit to shine to its fullest potential. He earned 23 tackles in 2019 and was recently granted another year of eligibility. The rest of the line is quite young, so the fortunes will largely ebb and flow with these two seniors.
Final Thoughts and Game Prediction
Historically, Utah State has not played well on the road against P5 teams. It pains me to say it, but they just haven’t. Though there’s no telling how much of a factor the crowd at Husky Stadium will be in the midst of a pandemic, the Aggies have a ton to prove.
In a similar twist to the Washington State matchup earlier in the season, this game will likely be a game of strength vs weakness on each side of the ball. Washington has a lot of retooling to do on offense and will be against an Aggie defense that should be substantially improved over last season. Conversely, Utah State’s offense has to show up against a traditionally very strong Washington front seven to have a puncher’s chance in this game.
The Aggies’ shuffling of offensive lineman last season hasn’t yielded a terribly consistent unit. USU started strong in this category last year, but once SO Andy Koch went down to injury early in the season, the sacks started to pile up and the Aggies finished 44th in sacks allowed. This offensive line can get pushed around versus a stalwart and beefy defensive line, so it will be critical for SR Demytrick Ali’ifua to get his occasionally wayward snaps under control. This will give time to Jr Henry Colombi to get the ball out quickly to his seasoned receivers, a potential match-up advantage over the Huskies.
Washington was strong against the run last season ranking 28th in the NCAA and yielding just 126.4 yards per game to their opponents. Since USU’s passing game is a question mark right now, the Aggies will have to rely on getting the ground game churning with SR Jaylen Warren leading the way. USU was middle of the road rushing the ball in 2019 at 152.2 yards per game, so Warren will need to stay healthy and get help from one of the younger backs to elevate this offense.
The Aggies are most likely going to have a rough outing against Washington. Though USU’s defense is probably good enough to keep the Husky offense in check, it’s going to turn into a murder slog quickly if USU can’t keep the chains moving against a schematically sound and disciplined Husky defense. They’re athletically superior and quite talented with the highest rated signing class in the Pac-12 for 2020.
I stopped believing in Utah State’s ability to win a P5 road game a long time ago. They won’t get it done until they actually get it done. This game will be largely a repeat of the 2015 affair, just uglier and more drawn out.
Final Prediction – Washington 34, Utah State 21