Both No. 10 Washington and Utah have significant questions on offense heading into Saturday's showdown in Salt Lake City.
There was an uneasy feeling around Husky Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the Huskies clung to a 17-3 third-quarter lead against their lower-division visitors from North Dakota.
The uneasiness didn’t last long. Washington closed the game with four touchdowns in a 16-minute stretch and rolled to a convincing 45-3 victory.
Some 2,000 miles away at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill., the Utah Utes looked quite uncomfortable, too.
Playing on the road in front of a tiny crowd (16,762), Utah was clinging to a four-point fourth-quarter lead until linebacker Chase Hansen returned an interception for a touchdown, giving the Utes a 17-6 victory over pesky Northern Illinois.
“I don’t feel very good,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the game, per The Salt Lake Tribune.
In what figures to be one of the most important Pac-12 games, Washington and Utah feature two of the conference’s fiercest defenses heading into their Pac-12 opener Saturday. But both must figure out what’s going on with their inconsistent offenses.
Kickoff in Salt Lake City is set for 7 p.m. for an ESPN broadcast.
“We’re a pretty average football team right now,” Whittingham said, adding: “But thank goodness for the defense. The defense played exceptionally well.”
Chris Petersen sounded much the same at Husky Stadium on Saturday evening.
“We played the type of defense we should,” Petersen said after UW’s defense held North Dakota to a field goal.
But, he added, “On offense, we can do better. Certainly running the ball we need to do better.”
Washington’s first-team offense, playing with a reshuffled offensive line, managed just 79 yards rushing through three quarters.
“I don’t feel like we dominated at any point,” senior QB Jake Browning said. “I feel like we have a standard of play and we didn’t play to it. I don’t feel like I played to my standard. Obviously happy we won but not happy with how I played personally.”
Utah trailed Northern Illinois 3-0 at halftime, and Utah’s standout running back, Zack Moss, was held to 66 yards on 16 carries before leaving with an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter.
Utah is in its second season with Troy Taylor as the offensive coordinator and second season with junior QB Tyler Huntley as the starter. Taylor was Browning’s mentor and high-school coach in Folsom, Calif.
Two years ago, No. 4 Washington went to Salt Lake City for a top-20 showdown and needed a late punt-return touchdown from Dante Pettis to eke out a 24-17 victory. (It was the first and still only punt-return touchdown that Utah has allowed over the past 10 seasons.)
Petersen is prepared for a rude welcome Saturday night.
“We think we were in a hostile environment last Saturday (against Auburn); it won’t be comparable (to what they’ll see in Salt Lake City),” he said. “A night game there — I know how that goes. That’s college football. It will be a challenging game.
“It will be interesting to see next week what we are all about.”