The No. 4 Washington Huskies (7-0, 4-0 in conference) are back in the championship mix. Undefeated, they haven’t been ranked this high since OutKast was pleading with their baby’s momma’s momma back in 2000.
They’ll face No. 17 Utah (7-1, 4-1 in conference) on the road for what should be their toughest game of the year so far. With the exception of a 35-28 win over Arizona, the Huskies have demolished all of their other opponents.
They boast one of the most exceptional passers in college football today in sophomore Jake Browning, who has connected on 68.6 percent of his attempts for 1,709 yards and 26 touchdowns, while only throwing two interceptions.
Washington’s offense is incredibly balanced, with running back Myles Gaskin leading the Pac-12 in rushing. Only a sophomore, he already has more than 2,000 career rushing yards.
Receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis are electrifying as well. In last week’s 41-17 win over Oregon State, they became the first pair of Husky wideouts to go over the 100-yard mark in the same game since Michael Sullivan was on The Road to Perdition back in 2002.
This is by far, the Pac-12’s biggest showcase game of the year. The Huskies have proven that they’re a legitimate playoff contender and Utah will have their hands full defensively. If they can’t get pressure on Browning, while still maintaining tight coverage on Washington’s speedy receivers, they’ll be in for a long day.
Utah has its own serious weapon at the quarterback position in Troy Williams. He actually signed with Washington coming out of high school before eventually transferring, and has passed for 1,725 yards this season.
Williams’ departure from Washington was somewhat messy. He was offered a scholarship by former head coach Steve Sarkisian, and never felt fully embraced when he arrived on campus to play for new Husky coach Chris Petersen.
He took a step back to play juco ball at Santa Monica College with no scholarship, and swiftly led them to an undefeated season.
When Kyle Whittingham showed up to recruit him to play at Utah, Williams heard all that he needed to hear. Whittingham told him that the Utes could run the ball well and would always play good defense, and with him running the passing attack, there was no limit to where Utah could go. And sure enough, they’ve got the best passing attack that they’ve had in years right about now.
Williams’ performances, unlike Browning and Heisman front-runner Lamar Jackson, haven’t garnered recognition on a national scale. And to be honest, some of his stat lines have been somewhat pedestrian. But the wins keep coming.
“He’s gotten wins with his arm, he’s gotten wins running the ball,” Utah co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said last week. “He’s gotten wins where he didn’t play well, but he had enough guts to battle back in the fourth quarter I think quarterback’s all about winning. Stats are for losers, it’s all about finding ways to win.”
Williams will be aided by one of the best comeback stories of the season in teammate Joe Williams, who’d previously retired due to injuries. After the first two games of the year where he gained 49 and 26 yards respectively against Southern Utah and BYU, the 5-foot-11 senior from Allentown, Pennsylvania decided to hang up his cleats.
Joe missed four games and reversed field, opting to finish his career in uniform. He returned against Oregon State two weeks ago and rushed for 179 yards. Last week, he ran for 332 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA.
“We were down to our last running back and all of a sudden he’s back in the lineup and a huge plus for us,” Whittingham told the media this week. “He pulled away from those UCLA defenders, and they have fast guys. They hand-pick who they want for that secondary and he outran them all.”
With 635 rushing yards the last two games, the matchup against Washington’s stout run defense, a unit that gives up less than 15 points per game, is worth monitoring.
The Utes are coming off a 52-point outburst against a very good UCLA defense. But Washington’s D, a unit littered with future NFL talent, is something else altogether. Few teams dominate on both sides of the ball like Washington has this year.
The Huskies still have their skeptics, though, and will look to silence them with another strong performance this weekend. But no one will be more motivated than Troy Williams, a former Husky who felt that he was tossed aside by his former school.
Make no mistake, this game is both business and personal to him, and he’ll be gunning for Petersen’s crew on his own Road to Perdition in the same way that Michael Sullivan came for Connor Rooney.
Other great weekend games include:
No. 8 Baylor vs Texas – Charlie Strong is fighting for his job. A win over the undefeated juggernaut, like last year’s 23-17 win in Waco, could help the Longhorns begin to salvage what is looking like another lost season. The Bears average close to 550 yards per game. Texas junior D’Onta Foreman averages 142.5 rushing yards.
No. 10 West Virginia vs Oklahoma State – Things are wild and wonderful again with the Mountaineers as Dana Holgerson has things humming in Morgantown. West Virginia has something that other teams in the Big 12 don’t: a great defense.
They also average over 500 yards per game on offense, with 200 of those coming on the ground. Oklahoma State’s offense averages over 41 points per game. Something’s gotta give in this one.
No. 5 Louisville vs Virginia – Lamar Jackson plays for Louisville. Watch Lamar Jackson. Lamar Jackson is very good. Lamar Jackson has the gift.
No. 7 Nebraska vs No. 11 Wisconsin – Another week and another Top-Ten opponent for Wisconsin. The Huskers haven’t been this good since cats were rocking Sean John and Rocawear gear back in 2001. That’s not a diss, they were poppin’ back then. If I really wanted to come at your neck, I would’ve mentioned dudes rocking the Funk Master Flex Lugz. But I digress.
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has completed 103 of 186 passes for 1,611 yards and 11 touchdowns. On the ground, he has an additional 380 yards and six more scores. But Wisconsin’s defense is stingier than Randolph and Mortimer Duke, giving up a mere eight total touchdowns and only nine plays of 20-plus yards all season.
No. 3 Clemson vs No. 12 Florida State – Both teams entered the season with National Championship hopes. The Seminoles, whose defense at the beginning of the year looked more suspect than a Malania Trump speech, started off 1-2, but they’re now on four-game winning streak. This game ain’t as sexy as it looked before the season kicked off, but it should still be loads of fun.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson has accumulated 1,950 passing yards and 20 touchdowns this season. He’s run for 279 more and another score. Seminoles redshirt freshman QB Deondre Francois looked great against Ole Miss when he threw for 419 yards. That will be hard to replicate with the Tigers’ vicious defensive line attacking all game, looking to tear his head off.