With Luke Falk, the Pac-12’s new career passingyardage leader, running the attack, Mike Leach’s Washington State offensegarners most of the headlines. But it’s the 20th-ranked Cougars’ underrateddefense which has host Utah’s full attention heading into Saturday’s game inSalt Lake City.
Washington State ranks in the top 10 nationallyin total defense (297.5 yards allowed per game) and passing defense (161.1yards) while ranking third in the conference in scoring (22.7 points allowed)and rushing defense (136.4 yards) and first in opponent first downs (14.1).Much of the credit belongs to defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa, who’s tiedfor the league lead in sacks (6.5) and ranks seventh nationally in tackles forloss (1.7 per game), and linebacker Frankie Luvu, who’s tied for sixth with 5.5sacks and also has 9.5 tackles for loss. Last week, in a 24-21 win overvisiting Stanford, the Cougars held the Cardinal to 198 yards and nine firstdowns, including a season-low 69 yards for national rushing leader Bryce Love, whoentered the contest averaging 208 yards per outing. “(Washington State is)among the best defenses in the Pac-12 and the country, and that’s really madethem a complete football team,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday at hisweekly news conference. “They’re hard to deal with. … They play exceptionallyhard. All 11 hats are running to the football on every snap.”
TV: 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: WashingtonState -1
ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12): TheCougars enter the weekend a half-game behind Washington for the Pac-12 Northlead, and will have two weeks following Saturday’s game to prepare for the Nov.25 Apple Cup showdown against the Huskies in Seattle. With 291.3 passing yardsper game, Falk ranks second in the conference and 15th nationally,and last week completed 34-of-48 attempts for 337 yards and three touchdowns inthe win over Stanford. Falk’s top target is wideout Tavares Martin Jr., whoranks fifth in the Pac-12 in receptions (6.1) and receiving yards (78.3), butthe QB does not have a reliable ground game with the Cougars ranking last inthe conference at 85.7 yards.
ABOUT UTAH (5-4, 2-4): The Utes snapped out of afour-game skid last Friday with a 48-17 home win over a Josh Rosen-less UCLAsquad as quarterback Tyler Huntley rolled up 327 total yards of offense andthrew for four scores. Zack Moss hit career highs in rushing attempts (23) andyards (153) while adding a pair of TDs on the ground, but he’ll obviously findthe going much tougher this week against the Cougars. The Utah defense has aneven 10 fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions and ranks right behindWashington State in scoring (23.1 points surrendered) and total defense (345.8yards).
1. The two teams haven’t met since 2014, and theall-time series is tied 7-7, including 2-2 since Utah joined the Pac-12 in2011.
2. Washington State’s win over Stanford capped anall-time program-best 7-0 home record, but the Cougars are only 1-2 on the roadso far, including lopsided losses at California (37-3) and Arizona (58-37) ontheir last two trips away from home.
3. Give the Utes the advantage on special teamsas they lead the nation in field goals made (21), net punting (44.9 yards) andpunt-return defense (-4.0 yards).
PREDICTION: Washington State 27, Utah 24