Putting this up now as prior obligations (Cronkite Sports Live at 4 PM Arizona time today on Youtube! I’ll be on it!) have taken time away from me to write on tomorrow’s games. I will have a full preview of Championship Saturday up tomorrow morning. For now, here’s the preview for tonight’s Pac-12 Championship.
Pac-12 Championship: No.17 Utah vs. No.11 Washington
As I write this, I am thinking about what it’d be like to be driving from Phoenix to Santa Clara right now, having paid God-knows-what insanely low price for student tickets to see Arizona State play for a chance to go Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, none of that is happening, and we’re getting two just as equally unimpressive teams instead. Welcome to the Pac-12 everyone!
ASU beat one of these teams (Utah. Utah with Zack Moss, I should point out) and hung close with the other. Brutal offense and play-calling killed the Sun Devils against the Huskies earlier this year, and a two possession lead was just too much for us to overcome. Washington’s 13th ranked defense by FEI came up clutch in that game.
It should against Utah as well. ASU beat Utah with big, explosive plays and by taking away the passing game, literally, as that was the game Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley finished his season in with a broken collarbone.
Since, it’s been rough going for the Utes. Backup QB Jason Shelly has been more effective with his feet than his arm since taking over. He’s posted a brutal 56.3% completion percentage, and the most he’s thrown in a game this season was 262 yards against Oregon; a game where he ran for two TDs and threw for none.
There’s no worse matchup for Utah than Washington when it comes to the passing game. The Huskies allow 5.8 yards per passing attempt, 11th in the country. They’re rock solid in coverage, with shutdown-calibers players everywhere. Shelly’s not making the throws you have to make against Washington.
The Utes might have a chance if Zack Moss was healthy, which would take the pressure off of Shelly to deliver. Backup Armand Shyne has gotten work throughout the whole year, but only stepped up big once in Moss’ absence against Oregon, a fine but not great run defense. Besides that, Shyne has struggled. Colorado stuffed him in a win, and despite rushing for two TDs in that crazy BYU game last week, Shyne couldn’t get yards to help the Utes move the ball down the field.
This game simply comes down to Utah being able to keep up and move the ball. Getting yards will be easier than scoring; Washington is 79th in the country at not-allowing first downs, according to Football Outsiders’ First Down Rate. But they clamp down once they allow those first downs, ranking 11th in FO’s DTF stat.
Washington’s offense, though turnover-prone, has a ton of weapons. When Jake Browning has a good day, he can air it out to receivers like Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones, who both average over 15 yards per catch. Myles Gaskin is one of the best running backs in the country as well. Utah’s fantastic up front though; they’re 6th in the country in yards allowed per rush, allowing just three per.
But even if Gaskin can’t get going, the Huskies’ receivers present such a massive matchup problem that Washington should be able to use them to get yards against Utah. The Utes don’t force turnovers at a very high clip, which is the key to stopping the Huskies and their passing attack.
If Utah was healthy, this would be a much more compelling game. But with all their injuries, it seems just too tough for the Utes to hang with the Huskies.
Prediction: Washington-35 Utah-14