5 Players To Watch In The Utah Vs. Washington Game

ESPN’s College GameDay heads to Salt Lake City this weekend for the second straight year as the No. 17 Utes host the No. 4 Washington Huskies. Last year, Utah defeated the California Golden Bears 30-24, forcing former Cal QB Jared Goff to throw five interceptions and knocking off the last unbeaten Pac-12 team.

This year, the Utes have a chance to knock off another unbeaten team, but Huskies quarterback Jake Browning will be harder to trip up than Goff as the sophomore is second in the nation in passing efficiency and third in the nation in passing touchdowns. While the Utes do lead the nation in takeaways (22) and are tied for No. 1 in interceptions (14), they will have to find a way to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. Here are five players to watch in Saturday’s North vs. South intraconference showdown.

Washington Quarterback Jake Browning

The aforementioned sophomore quarterback has captured the media’s attention with Heisman nods while he helps guide his team to a hopeful Pac-12 crown. Everybody said to watch out for him this year after UDub’s 7-6 campaign a year ago, and everyone has been proved right. Last year, he threw 10 interceptions, but this year, he has thrown just two. Last season, he was sacked 30 times, while this year he has taken just 11. Last year, he only threw 16 touchdowns, while this year he has already thrown 26. Part of the improvement comes from a more mature, solid offensive line and a troop of talented wide receivers, but most of it is the result of an older, wiser and more patient Browning, who protects the ball.

Utah Running Back Joe Williams

Fresh out of retirement and on a two-game tear, this senior running back was pulled back into college football life when sophomore running back Armand Shyne was injured against Arizona earlier this month. And he hasn’t looked back. He had 185 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries against Oregon State and on-upped that last week in Utah’s 52-45 win over UCLA. Against the Bruins, Williams had 29 carries for 333 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 11.4 yards per carry. That performance not only shattered Utah’s single-game rushing record, but earned Williams Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. With a physical front five, Washington is going to have a hard time stopping the explosive, unretired Williams.

Washington Linebacker Keishawn Bierria

While the offense will be electric on both sides in this game, winning the contest will come down to a defensive effort. That’s where Bierria comes in. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior currently leads the nation in fumble recoveries with five, which also happens to tie UW’s individual school record. So if Utah makes any mistakes, Bierria will be there to make them pay. He is also second on the team with 40 tackles (28 unassisted, 12 assisted) and earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors for his eight tackles and fumble recovery in the Huskies' 44-6 win over then-No. 7 Stanford. 

Utah Punter Mitch Wishnowsky

Utah ranks No. 1 in the nation in net punting (45.26 yards) thanks to Ray Guy Award candidate Mitch Wishnowsky. The sophomore from Western Australia looks to continue the punting legacy that Utah has built since Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award in 2014 and 2015. Wishnowsky is tied for the national lead in punts inside the 20-yard line (20) and ranks second in the nation in punt average (48.1). He has not had a touchback since the very first game of the season. He also has been likened to Thor from a physical standpoint, although the similarities seem to extend to his leg as well. If special teams plays a role in this matchup — which, let's face it, it usually does in the Pac-12 — then Utah holds the clear advantage.

Utah Quarterback Troy Williams

Williams, the junior signal-caller, doesn’t put up Browning-type numbers. He has thrown for 1,725 yards and seven touchdowns but has also thrown five picks and been sacked 14 times. However, he has utilized 16 different receivers through the season. Williams will be the X-factor in this game, not because of any statistic he has ever recorded. The junior transfer will be facing his old team, the place he began his college football career with a redshirt season in 2013, playing in only five games with one start in 2014. So yeah, this game is personal for Williams, who apparently made a promise to UW that he would be back, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.  And he is back, on the other side of the ball, ready to wreak havoc on Washington’s defensive backs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *