UW's first game vs. Utah this season was littered with huge tackles — some of them clean, some not. There's no reason to expect anything less in Friday's conference championship.
From the other side of the field, Washington senior cornerback Jordan Miller thought he heard something thunder down from the heavens.
“B-Murph’s hit? Oh man. I didn’t even see it because I was in coverage. But I could hear. I was like, ‘Oh my god, was that lightning? What is going on?'” Miller recalled Monday.
He’s talking about the hit fellow UW cornerback Byron Murphy delivered on Utah receiver Britain Covey late in the second quarter of the Huskies’ 21-7 victory at Utah on Sept. 15. It was a textbook hit: Murphy led with his shoulder and delivered a blow to Covey’s chest, knocking the receiver flat on his back (and, it appeared, knocking the wind out of him in the process).
Washington players and coaches came out of that game talking about how much respect they had for Covey, the Utes’ 5-foot-8, 170-pound slot receiver and punt returner. He took a pounding that day against the Huskies, and he kept getting up.
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UW senior safety JoJo McIntosh delivered the final blow late in the game, making a diving breakup of a pass intended for Covey across the middle at the goal line. Covey rolled off his back and punched the end-zone turf three times as he tried to catch his breath.
“That is teach tape,” UW co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “Those are the ones the NCAA should pull out and go, ‘Hey, we’re not taking away big hits in football. Here’s how you do it.’ Your head is completely out of it. We’re leading with the shoulder and we’re not leading to the opponent’s head; we’re leading to their body.
“And now maybe the air gets knocked out; maybe you break a rib. But at least we’re not messing with anything from the neck and above.”
Miller said the Utah game this year was one of three most physical games he’s played in during his UW career (he pointed to this year’s Apple Cup and the 2015 Apple Cup as two other memorably “physical” affairs). Two Utah players were ejected from that game for targeting hits.
The No. 10 Huskies (9-3) are expecting a similar tough matchup Friday night in a rematch against the No. 17 Utes (9-3) in the Pac-12 championship.
After that September game in Salt Lake City, UW senior running back Myles Gaskin said he knew Utah would emerge from the Pac-12 South. The Utes, he said, have long been one of the toughest teams in the conference.
“We’ve played a lot of games the last four years and Utah since Day One, since the first time I played Utah as a freshman, I’ve always known they were going to bring it every single snap. And they haven’t failed. They always do. It’s one of those times you get excited for it. Because that’s what you want. Football is not supposed to be blowouts or guys playing soft. We’re out here in pads, so let’s have fun.”