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No. 10 Washington too much for Utah as Huskies snag Pac-12 road win

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Washington required a last-ditch punt return for a touchdown to survive their last trip to Salt Lake City but had no need for such heroics this time around as the No. 10 Huskies never trailed in an eventual 21-7 win over Utah on Saturday night that was anything but pretty for either side.

Neither quarterback will want to review tape of the effort as both faced pressure on nearly every snap and compounded problems with bad decisions such as the one Jake Browning made below:

That wild play in the fourth quarter could have been a momentum changer for the Utes but they failed to convert on fourth down near the end zone and wound up empty-handed in the entire sequence. Browning wound up finishing the night with 155 yards and a touchdown throw but it was anything but a sharp performance from the senior who was supposed to play a big role in the team returning to the top of the Pac-12 standings.

Luckily for head coach Chris Petersen he still had a strong running game and a feisty defense to complement it. Tailback Myles Gaskin continued his assault on school and conference record books by racking up 143 yards and scored the first points of the game by diving over the pylon on the opening drive. Safety Taylor Rapp was all over the field defensively and recovered a pair of fumbles, one in each half.

Utah’s defense was also the team’s strength for the most part and did so with at least one starter leaving due to injury and two others getting tossed for targeting. The group continually kept the Utes in the game as it wore on and the entire unit was particularly impressive up front as they seemed to cause some havoc on just about every play.

In the end though, it was once again the offense that proved to be Utah’s biggest issue. QB Tyler Huntley threw for only 138 yards and also had an interception while looking a lot more dangerous on the ground (49 yards rushing). Running back Zack Moss had an early touchdown run and finished with 67 yards on the night but was kept in check for the most part in the second half.

If there was any silver lining for the home team in Salt Lake, it was that the loss by no means wrecks the Utes’ Pac-12 campaign given the state of the South division at the moment. Both USC and Arizona are 1-2 and the rebuilding project Chip Kelly is going through at UCLA looks like it is off to a rough start. Herm Edwards does have a big win at Arizona State under his belt but who knows how things will have played out by the time the two meet in Tempe in November.

Washington will count the game as a win but the effort won’t be encouraging at all to the die-hard Huskies fans out there. While many thought an undefeated run through the Pac-12 slate would still keep those slim Playoff hopes alive, that will not come to fruition at all if the team doesn’t pick things up offensively after such a lackluster effort on the road.

No. 10 Washington holds slim lead over Utah going into halftime

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No. 10 Washington has been on the road before this season and faced big challenges but they’re locked into a tight one as they open Pac-12 play with a 14-7 halftime lead in the difficult environment at Utah.

The Huskies initially looked like they would be able to move the ball fairly well based on their opening drive, which went 65 yards to the end zone in just five plays. Tailback Myles Gaskin’s running helped strike first as he burst through on third down, hit the edge and flew right over the pylon for a touchdown on his way to a 72 yard half.

Backup Salvon Ahmed was a quiet night early on in his shadow while quarterback Jake Browning threw for 110 yards but was sacked twice and seemed to feel the pressure quite a bit.

Luckily the Washington defense looked solid in their own right and limited the Utes to just 137 yards in the half. Zack Moss was responsible for the lone touchdown on the board and racked up 48 yards on the ground but it wasn’t an easy game to move the ball at all. Quarterback Tyler Huntley was nearly more effective on the ground (42 yards) than through the air (43 yards, one interception) and seemed to have a hand in his face with every throw.

This game was billed as a potential Pac-12 title game preview but based on what we saw in the first half, both sides will need to step things up after the break if they want to leave Rice-Eccles with a win.

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Pac-12

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If there’s any conference that looks forward to the fresh slate of a new season in 2018, it’s the Pac-12. The league missed the College Football Playoff for the second time in four tries last year and endured a disastrous — to put it mildly — bowl season that saw teams go 1-8 overall with few competitive contests. That’s all in the past though, as commissioner Larry Scott and his 12 schools look to turn the page and underscore that things on the gridiron out West are not quite as dour as the national narrative suggests. There are a handful of legitimate Playoff contenders entering this year’s campaign, a deep middle-class of teams sure to complicate division races and a handful of budding superstars that should factor heavily in the race for the Heisman Trophy once again. While it’s true there’s nowhere, really, to go but up for the Pac-12 in 2018, the conference appears primed to get back on track going forward.

Leading the charge will once again be Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies, who are on paper the Pac-12’s only truly elite team and a heavy favorite to win the conference crown and make the final four. The group up in Seattle checks off all the boxes you’re looking for in a front-runner, including a savvy quarterback in Jake Browning, elite skill position talent like tailback Myles Gaskin, a stout defense and the best depth in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They’ll have a chance right away to cement their name in the national conversation with a trip to Atlanta to open against Auburn in Week 1, and will also benefit from hosting rival Stanford at home late in the season. Speaking of the Cardinal, they’ll be a contender once again thanks in part to what should be the school’s best offense since the days of Andrew Luck throwing passes on the Farm. Bryce Love headlines the group as a dynamic threat to score from just about everywhere but quarterback K.J. Costello should be able to take some of the pressure off in his second season as the established starter at quarterback. If there’s one area of concern for David Shaw’s team it’s on defense, which is something you could also say for the rest of the teams in the league as well.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 North, Oregon should be a team that is a regular in the top 25 for Mario Cristobal’s first full year in charge up in Eugene. Quarterback Justin Herbert, when healthy, has the look of a first-round pick behind center and the team should benefit from a relatively stable offseason after so much change the past few years. After the Ducks though, the rest of the division is in various stages of rebuilding mode. Cal was better than their 5-7 record from 2017 suggests and returns most of their offense, but it will still be tough to be a week-in, week-out threat in the Pac-12 until head coach Justin Wilcox can add to the depth on defense. Washington State will always be a pesky thorn in everybody’s side as long as Mike Leach is in charge but the Cougars are facing massive coaching turnover (six new assistants) and it remains to be seen if the program is truly over the tragic loss of quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Oregon State figures to once again remain in the cellar even with a bit of a jolt from new coach Jonathan Smith.

While there’s a somewhat clear pecking order in the North, the Pac-12 South is about as wide-open as the division ever has been. USC once again will trot out the most talent of any of the six teams, but there’s still plenty of skepticism over the future of head coach Clay Helton and just how much depth the Trojans will have come the end of the season. Seeking not to repeat the quarterback controversy from two years ago, Helton has opted to go with true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback — a move that could pay off longterm but might lead to issues early as the signal-caller who should still be in high school adjusts to life in the Pac-12. Southern Cal remains the preseason media favorite to win the South but the door is certainly open for two others in Utah and Arizona.

In Salt Lake City, it might just be now or never for Kyle Whittingham’s squad despite a tough slate of crossover games (Oregon/Washington) on the schedule. The Utes get both the Wildcats and Trojans at Rice-Eccles and easily sport the South’s stingiest defense. The offense, a constant issue ever since joining the Pac-12, could be much more consistent than in years past thanks to a backfield that sports second-year QB Tyler Huntley and the terrific one-two punch of Zack Moss and Armand Shyne. Speaking of good second-year signal-callers, Kevin Sumlin finds himself in a great position as a first-year head coach at Arizona by having Heisman candidate Khalil Tate to work with. The bulk of a young defense is also back in Tucson and if the new staff can help bring Tate along as a passer, that elusive trip to the Rose Bowl might not be so far out of reach for the Wildcats like it once was.

Despite all that firepower to work with and high expectations though, Sumlin won’t be the most-watched first-year coach in the division thanks to the arrival of Chip Kelly at UCLA and the ever-quotable Herm Edwards at Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a chance to surprise a bit with quarterback Manny Wilkins under center and a budding superstar in wideout N'Keal Harry, but the team has one of the most difficult schedules in the country and a huge unknown in the coaching staff. Not much is expected of the Bruins in Kelly’s first season given numerous roster issues in Westwood, but nobody is putting it past the spread offense guru to get the team to be competitive in short order. Figuring out who starts at quarterback from a number of options is task No. 1 for the powder blues, but issues abound along the offensive line, running back and on defense. Some of those same issues are present up at Colorado as well, which looks ticketed toward another down season and probably needs to make a bowl game at a minimum to save Mike MacIntyre’s job in Boulder going forward.

 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Pac-12 North

1. Washington
2. Stanford
3. Oregon
4. Cal
5. Washington State
6. Oregon State

Pac-12 South

1. Utah
2. Arizona
3. USC
4. Arizona State
5. UCLA
6. Colorado

IN SHORT…

Maxwell Award watch list highlighted by Bryce Love, Jonathan Taylor, Khalil Tate, McKenzie Milton

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The height of watch list season is upon us as the new week begins. The Maxwell Football Club got things kicked off this week with the release of the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award watch lists. Among the many names appearing on the organization’s watch list for its player of the year award are semifinalists from last year’s award; Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Stanford running back Bryce Love, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

Alabama landed three players on the watch list, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Damien Harris also joining Hurts on the watch list. Other players who played for the College Football Playoff participants last season include Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, Kelly Bryant, and Travis Etienne, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift,  Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Kyler Murray.

Last year’s Maxwell Award winner was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Big Ten currently has the longest drought without a Maxwell Award winner among the power conferences. Penn State’s Larry Johnson was the last Big Ten player to win the award, doing so in 2002.

Here is this year’s watch list for the Maxwell Award:

RB Cam Akers, Florida State
RB Darius Anderson, TCU
RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
RB Alex Barnes, Kansas State
RB KirVonte Benson, Georgia Tech
QB Jake Bentley, South Carolina
DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State
WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
RB Spencer Brown, UAB
QB Jake Browning, Washington
QB Kelly Bryant, Clemson
RB Stephen Carr, USC
QB KJ Costello, Stanford
RB AJ Dillon, Boston College
RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
QB Caleb Evans, ULM
QB Mason Fine, North Texas
QB Ryan Finley, N.C. State
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
QB Deondre Francois, Florida State
QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
QB Ty Gangi, Nevada
WR James Gardner, Miami (Ohio)
RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
RB James Gilbert, Ball State
QB Will Grier, West Virginia
QB Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
RB Damien Harris, Alabama
WR N'Keal Harry, Arizona State
RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
RB Karan Higdon, Michigan
RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
RB Travis Homer, Miami
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
QB Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
WR Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
RB Ty Johnson, Maryland
QB Daniel Jones, Duke
RB Xavier Jones, SMU
RB Patrick Laird, California
QB Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
QB Drew Lock, Missouri
RB Bryce Love, Stanford
QB TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech
QB Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State
QB McKenzie Milton, UCF
QB Steven Montez, Colorado
RB David Montgomery, Iowa State
RB Jalin Moore, Appalachian State
RB Zack Moss, Utah
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
QB Frank Nutile, Temple
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
QB Shea Patterson, Michigan
QB Malcolm Perry, Navy
WR Tony Pollard, Memphis
WR Ahmmon Richards, Miami
QB Armani Rogers, UNLV
QB Nathan Rourke, Ohio
QB Brett Rypien, Boise State
WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
RB LJ Scott, Michigan State
QB Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
WR David Sills, West Virginia
RB Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota
RB Benny Snell, Kentucky
QB Nathan Stanley, Iowa
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
QB Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
QB Khalil Tate, Arizona
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
QB Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
RB Juwan Washington, San Diego State
DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
QB Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
QB Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
RB Darnell Woolfolk, Army

Utah snacks on anemic West Virginia in Heart of Dallas Bowl

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It was hard to decide what was uglier at Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: the drizzly, gray weather with temperatures in the high 30’s, or West Virginia’s performance. In the end, it was probably the latter. Playing without starting quarterback Will Grier and starting running back Justin Crawford, West Virginia was non-competitive as Utah cruised to a 30-14 win.

Utah (7-6) opened the game by forcing a three-and-out, then scoring on a 58-yard Zack Moss burst up the middle to provide what turned out to be the winning margin. After West Virginia notched a short field goal to pull within 7-3 early in the second quarter, the Utes burst the game open for good when Marcus Simms muffed a Mitch Wishnowsky punt, which the Utes’ Cody Barton hopped on at the WVU 13-yard line. Quarterback Tyler Huntley rushed in a 2-yard score three plays later to put the game effectively out of reach at 14-3 with 5:46 left in the second quarter.

A Utah special teams mistake briefly afforded West Virginia (7-6) a window to jump back in the game. With the score at 17-3 midway through the third quarter, Wishnowsky could not handle a punt snap, which West Virginia’s Shane Commodore recovered at the Utah 9-yard line. However, an anemic West Virginia offense could not gain a yard on its next three plays, forcing a second Evan Staley field goal and ending any hope of a Mountaineer comeback.

One early fourth quarter exchange epitomized the state of play in this day-after-Christmas bowl game pitting two teams that came in a combined 13-11 and playing before a mostly-empty Cotton Bowl. Leading 17-6 with the ball at the WVU 32, Utah elected to go for a 4th-and-3 as the fourth quarter opened. Those plans were thwarted when wide receiver Darren Carrington II flinched, forcing Utah to punt on a 4th-and-8 from the WVU 37. However, West Virginia immediately gave that break back by jumping offside on the punt snap. Utah sent its offense back on the field and saw Carrington atone for his mistake by taking a short pass from Huntley and turning it into a touchdown. But that score was called back thanks to another flag, as Ute wideout Raelon Singleton was caught holding after the catch. Huntley eventually notched his second 2-yard touchdown rush of the day four plays later.

Clint Chugunov made his second start of the season at quarterback for West Virginia and was, well, not good. He didn’t get much help from the rest of the offense and he did gut it out through a right leg injury, but the numbers are the numbers, and he hit 9-of-28 passes — including zero second half completions until just before the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter — for 129 yards with one garbage time touchdown and two interceptions. Chugunov missed a wide-open Simms with a chance to pull WVU within 17-10 in the third quarter, his first interception hit Utah’s Julian Blackmon directly in the chest with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and his second pick, also to Blackmon, ended any hope of a miracle comeback after West Virginia recovered an onside kick with 1:50 remaining and trailing 30-14. 

It wasn’t just Chugunov, though. West Virginia rushed for 29 yards, gained 153 yards of total offense, achieved six first downs, converted 2-of-14 third down tries and turned the ball over four times.

Utah improved to 11-1 in bowl games under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Huntley led the Utes by hitting 12-of-26 passes for 165 yards while rushing 25 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns, and Moss added 150 yards and a score on 20 carries.