The Nacua Bowl is back.
A year ago, the sibling showdown between Washington wide receiver Puka Nacua and Utah wideout Samson Nacua lost some of its luster when Puka — then a 210-pound, former four-star true freshman — unexpectedly missed the game (and the next four to end the season) with a broken foot sustained in practice.
To that point, Puka — the Utah high school state record-holder for career receptions (260), receiving yards (5,226) and receiving touchdowns (58) — had produced seven catches, 168 receiving yards, 24 yards per reception and two touchdowns in limited opportunities at UW.
But, with little brother watching from a scooter on the sideline, Samson hauled in a critical 28-yard catch that set up the winning score in the fourth quarter of 8-1 Utah’s 33-28 victory.
Now, a week after both Nacua brothers found the end zone — Puka via a 65-yard catch-and-run against Arizona, Samson sprawling across the goal line for a 7-yard score in a 33-17 defeat against USC — they’ll meet again, with little warning.
“Game on little bro!!” Samson tweeted this week, after Washington State and Arizona State’s respective COVID-19 cancellations forced an impromptu cross-division clash between the Huskies and Utes at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Across Washington, college football fans are understandably disappointed the Apple Cup was canceled.
But its replacement, in reality, is a rivalry game of its own.
“What I love about Puka, what he gives to the whole team and definitely that side of the ball and the wide receiver room, is just a bunch of energy,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said of his sophomore wide receiver on Wednesday. “He has this positive energy that’s contagious, and we really missed that last year when he was injured and wasn’t able to finish the season.
“And then he’s a big body. He’s hard to tackle for some defensive backs. He’s bigger than most defensive backs, definitely bigger than most corners, and I think that’s a big part of his game.”
But the Nacuas can’t impact the game without a capable quarterback. At Washington, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris has impressed in his first two career starts — completing 59.2% of his passes while throwing for 371 yards with two touchdowns and zero turnovers.
As for Utah, South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley is set to start Saturday after redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising — who won a quarterback competition out of fall camp — was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in the loss to USC.
“It’s definitely a huge blow for their offense to lose their starting quarterback right there in their first game,” Lake said. “Nobody wants that to happen to anybody. But they do have a guy that’s played a lot of football that stepped in and made some plays there down the stretch against an obviously really good USC team.
“I know (Utah coach Kyle) Whittingham. He’s going to have whoever’s available coached up, prepared and dialed in to try to come in here and get a victory. So we’re excited about this matchup. It’s an extremely well-coached team, a team that we have a lot of respect for. We can’t wait to have some fun Saturday night.”
Of course, the fun will be multiplied if the Huskies catch the football.
And UW’s wide receivers — Puka included — have struggled to do that consistently in their first two victories.
“Obviously (Puka) had the big play last week, but now I just want him to be even more consistent,” Lake said. “In really that whole room, we need to make sure we’re catching the ball when we should catch it. If a defensive back makes a really good play on the ball, we all understand that. But we need to catch those layups. So I definitely want to make sure we see some improvement in that area.”
College Football Playoff concerns
The College Football Playoff committee released its first weekly rankings last Tuesday, and just one Pac-12 program — No. 15 Oregon (3-0) — cracked the top 25.
With precious few opportunities to prove itself in an abbreviated schedule, it seems increasingly unlikely that Washington — even if it finishes 6-0 and wins a Pac-12 title — would receive significant CFP consideration.
But what does Lake think about his team, and his conference’s, national standing?
“It just goes to show you that it’s a beauty contest,” he said. “If you go to a beauty contest, there’s a lot of beautiful people there and it’s probably hard to decide which one is the most beautiful. So we don’t worry about this. This is a thing that is out of our control. What we can control is trying to win the Pac-12 championship. That’s what we can control. And right now, the next step toward that is playing our opponent on Saturday. That’s all our team can worry about, all our staff can worry about.
“I get it. It’s college football. The fans love to look at rankings and who’s ranked this and who’s ranked that, and I get the drama of it all. If at the end of the year we are holding up that trophy with an immaculate record there, then I will definitely answer that question. But at this point, all we can worry about is the University of Utah.”