No. 10 Washington opens Pac-12 play with road test at Utah

Tenth-ranked Washington knows the pressure of a big-time road game. The Huskies head into Saturday’s Pac-12 opener at Utah having faced Auburn in Week 1 a short drive from the Tigers’ campus.

“A night game (at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium), I know how that goes,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said in his postgame press conference following a 45-3 rout of North Dakota last week. “It will be interesting to see next week what we are all about.”

Saturday’s contest promises a lively atmosphere with the odds-on preseason favorites in the Pac-12 Washington (1-1) aiming to establish that status early. Utah (2-0) is a dark-horse contender in the conference’s South division, and a recent threat to the Huskies in two close encounters.

Washington won its last visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2016, 31-24, on a Dante Pettis punt returned for a touchdown. The Huskies defense then bowed up for a stop deep in their own territory on Utah’s last-gasp effort.

Last season’s showdown ended with Washington scoring 10 points in the final minute to steal a 33-30 victory at home. If it seems the Huskies and Utes are evenly matched, it could come down to their similar styles. Both Petersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham have built reputations on physically aggressive defenses keyed with imposing linemen up front.

Those similar philosophies factored into both teams’ Week 2 wins.

Washington’s offense was slow to start against overmatched North Dakota, notching just 10 points until the latter portion of the second quarter. Forcing the Fighting Hawks into five three-and-outs on six possessions to start the second half allowed the offense to settle after a sluggish start.

Likewise, Utah did not score its first points until the late third quarter in a 17-6 win at Northern Illinois. The Utes’ ability to stymie Northern Illinois on the other end made the difference, with linebacker Chase Hansen’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown fittingly closing the door.

“We’re a pretty average football team right now,” Whittingham said in his postgame press conference. “We didn’t get much going offensively tonight and it was disappointing.”

The nature of their offensive varied: Utah averaged just 1.7 rushing yards as a team, while Washington quarterback Jake Browning threw a pair of interceptions.

The offense that can solve an outstanding opposing defense has a huge advantage on Saturday. Utah has the added benefit of a raucous home crowd ready to see the Utes stake an immediate spot at the forefront of the Pac-12 title chase.

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