Washington State (2-6) at Utah (3-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 3 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice-Eccles Stadium (46,634) -- Salt Lake City, Utah. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: Washington State 1-3, Utah 3-1. Away Record: Washington State 1-3, Utah 0-4. Neutral Record: Washington State 0-0, Utah 0-0. Conference Record: Washington State 0-5, Utah 1-4. Series Record: Utah leads 6-5.
GAME NOTES: Washington State attempts to get into the win column in Pac-12 conference play for the first time when the Cougars travel to Rice-Eccles Stadium to square off with the Utah Utes.
The Cougars came as close as they have all season to posting a win in conference play by playing tough against a nationally ranked Stanford team, but fell in the end, 24-17. Surprisingly enough it was the Cougars' defense that kept them in the game allowing a season-low 256 yards of offense. Still there is little consolation that the Cougars can take, having lost five straight to drop to 2-6 overall and a conference-worst 0-5.
Utah was also in the midst of a long losing streak before erupting for a 49-27 win over California. The game featured the highest point total of the season for the Utes, thanks to a rebirth of the run game. The Utes had four rushing touchdowns in the game which matched their season total entering play. The Utes are now 3-5 overall and just marginally better than Washington State in the conference standings with the win over California putting the Utes at 1-4. For all its struggles, Utah has played well at home with a 3-1 tally at Rice- Eccles Stadium.
These teams have only been conference foes for a year with Utah making its Pac-12 debut last season. The Utes took home a 30-27 victory in last season's matchup and own a 6-5 series advantage all-time.
Mike Leach has been unable to figure out which quarterback is the best option to run his offense. Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday have each played significant time. Tuel may have finally taken the starting spot for good after a strong effort against Stanford. Tuel threw for a career-high 401 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, while completing 43-of-60 passes. Overall, Tuel's numbers have been better than Halliday in terms of efficiency with his 66.8 completion percentage far and away an improvement on Halliday's 52.9 percent. Tuel also showed a great deal of toughness against Stanford as he played well despite being sacked 10 times.
No matter who is under center, Marquess Wilson is the primary target. Wilson has caught a team-high 47 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns. Wilson's contributions this season are just par for the course as he has posted 14 career 100-yard receiving efforts including a nine-catch, 100-yard output against Stanford. With the Cougars so focused on passing, averaging the second most passing yards in the conference (332.1 ypg), a number of other receivers have also been prominent fixtures. Brett Bartolone (38 receptions, 308 yards 3 TDs), Isiah Myers (37 receptions, 380 yards, 4 TDs) and Gabe Marks (35 receptions, 456 yards, 2 TDs) are also making contributions.
Washington State is just the ninth best total offense in the conference (365.6 ypg). That has to do with an anemic run game. The Cougars have just 268 yards on the ground this season on 165 attempts which are not only the worst numbers in the conference, but in the nation as well. The Cougars didn't help matters against Stanford's stout defense with minus 16 yards.
Washington State is hoping to build on defense after a strong showing against Stanford. Previous results would point in the opposite direction though, with the Cougars ranked 10th in the conference in total defense (436.0 ypg) and scoring defense (29.6 ppg).
Deone Bucannon has been a rare bright spot on the unit with a team-high 70 tackles, with four interceptions and seven passes defended. Bucannon had 10 tackles against Stanford which was his fifth double-digit effort of the season. Travis Long has been a beast in the pass rush as well, with 7.5 sacks and 10.0 tackles for loss, both team-highs.
Getting the running game going will be a huge help to a Utah offense that has struggled across the board. The Utes are the worst team in the conference in total offense (308.4 ypg) and have struggled finishing drives with the second worst red zone conversion rate (69.6 percent) in the Pac-12.
John White IV finally looked like the running back Utah fans got used to seeing run all over the place last season. White rushed for 105 yards and a pair of scores on 22 carries last time out and the hope is he is back to form. Overall, White has rushed for 518 yards this season and had only one touchdown before the two-score effort against California. Kelvin York (248 yards) has been a solid alternative.
Uncertainty at quarterback could also be helped by a strong running game. The Utes have used three different quarterbacks this season, but with Jordan Wynn stepping away from the team for good and Jon Hays out the last two games, Travis Wilson seems to be the man for the job. Wilson has thrown for 646 yards and two scores this season, while completing 65.3 percent of his passes. He has started the last two games.
Understandably no pass catcher has really established himself as the go-to receiver. Jake Murphy is the team leader with 26 receptions, for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Dres Anderson (25 receptions, 242 yards) is a close second.
Defense has been solid for Utah which has helped keep the team somewhat afloat. The Utes are the third-best defense in the conference (346.4 ypg. Although the Utes have kept yardage down, they seemingly haven't been able to get enough stops in the red zone, surrendering scores on 87.5 percent of foes' attempts in the red zone.
Trevor Reilly is the team-leader in tackles with only 45 this season. Star Lotulelei hasn't really lived up to the hype of the preseason when many thought he could be one of the best defenders in the nation, but he has still been solid in the middle, with a team-high 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
Being one-sided on offense has not been a recipe for success for Leach like it was at Texas Tech. It's unlikely that the Cougars will find a run game overnight and it's defensive effort against Stanford was more of an anomaly than the start of a trend. With the Utes showing more balance on both sides of the ball, Leach's first season in Pullman will continue its downward trend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah 27, Washington State 17
10/31 10:43:42 ET