1. Pick At The Defense
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The Utah defense has been stout and has held opposing offenses to 17 points a game, 117 yards on the ground a game, and 210 yards through the air. All good enough for the 45 in the nation.
Connor Halliday is going to have to pick at the Utah defense and find ways to get down the field and score points. Even though they have yet to play a pass first team like the Cougars you can still expect them to be able to make the stops they need.
Wilson and the Utes have been a really surprising team this year and are able to back it up. The Utes came out last week against Michigan and didn’t allow them into the redzone at all throughout the game and didn’t allow them to score an offensive touchdown – scored on an interception returned for a touchdown and a field goal.
2. Last Week’s Defense
The defense in last week’s game was outstanding and did not give up throughout the game. There was a point in the second quarter when Oregon had negative-7 rushing yards. Most of those negative yards coming from the multiple first half sacks. The Cougars defense had 7 sacks in the game for 48 yards and were getting in the backfield what seemed like every play.
That kind of defense needs to show up this weekend for the Cougars to stop the running game of the Utes. They are a team that hardly throws the ball and Travis Wilson is a mobile quarterback on top of that. That is one thing that has always been an issue for the Cougars, stopping the run, and last week that was not the case.
Utah has the 7th best average score this season with 47 points and have had 2 games where they have scored almost 60 points. There is going to be a big need for the Cougars to keep that number down and get ahead early.
3. Win The Turnover Battle
With just 1 fumble and 1 interception on the season the Utes hardly turn the ball over and it shows in their scores. They don’t give the opposing offenses the chance to score and Washington State will need to change that. The 1 interception that they have thrown came from their backup quarterback.
Connor Halliday has had really good success when it comes to playing against the Utes. Before last week Halliday had thrown an interception in every game since November of 2011 unless he is playing Utah (besides the game in November of 2011 when he threw 4 against Utah). He will need to keep that streak alive and go for his first consecutive no-interception game since he was a Freshman.
The Cougars have a negative-5 turnover margin on this season and have 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery. That number will need to get higher throughout the season if they want to win more games.
4. Win The Special Teams Battles
The Utes have one of the best special teams this season and take a lot of pride in it. Kaelin Clay has already returned 3 kicks for a touchdown and is deadly and can make space out of anything.
This is not a good matchup for the Cougars as they struggled with punting and kicking the ball early in the season. It will be a test to see if they are going to be able to stick with that again. The Cougars won’t have the home crowd to get them back and excited if Clay or anyone else has a huge special teams play so it will be a necessity to keep the Utes special teams quiet.
Keeping the special teams play down is going to be one of the bigger keys to a Washington State win this weekend and it will be important throughout the rest of the year as well
5. Keep Up The Running Game
Any team that plays the Cougars can guess 98% of the time if it is a pass or a run before they even break the huddle. The Cougars are starting to get a little bit more of a running game and it is going to be really helpful this weekend if they are able to do that again. With most teams going right to defending the pass the running game should be open.
The offensive line is starting to get the feel of things and are starting to get some open lanes going, as they should be. The running lanes should be always open as they throw the ball 50+ times and it is going to be important to be able to bail to the running game if Halliday is not doing so well in a drive.
The Cougars are going to need the same type of running game that showed up the past two weeks in order to win the game.