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Thorn in their side: Huskies have been Utes’ biggest nemesis of all the Pac-12 schools

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah football team has had varying degrees of success against Pac-12 opponents over the years.

Including the pre-Pac-12 Conference days, the Utes have beaten Colorado 29 times, Arizona 22 times and every other team in the league at least four times.

There’s one school, however, the Utes have struggled with more than any other. Utah has just one victory to its credit in 11 tries against Washington, Saturday night’s opponent (8 p.m. Rice-Eccles Stadium).

We can stand toe to toe with them and play with them and that should give us some confidence. – Kyle Whittingham

The only victory over the Huskies came in 2015 when the Utes went to Seattle and took a 34-23 victory in early November behind the play of Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson. The last two years, the Utes played the Huskies close before losing in the final minutes of the game.

In 2016 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utes led the Huskies 14-10 at halftime and were tied at 24 late in game when Dante Pettis took a punt return 58 yards for a touchdown with 3:25 left to give Washington the victory.

Then, last year in Seattle, the Utes actually led by a touchdown with under two minutes to play, only to see the Huskies score a touchdown with 58 seconds left and a field goal as time ran out for a 33-30 victory.

That narrow defeat gives the Utes some confidence going into Saturday’s game against the 10th-ranked Huskies, despite a lackluster performance last week in a 17-6 victory at Northern Illinois. Washington is coming off a 45-3 win over North Dakota after a tough opening-week 21-16 loss to No. 7 Auburn.

“We can stand toe to toe with them and play with them and that should give us some confidence,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve had some rough finishes with them and we’ve also been able to come away with a victory (in 2015). We’ve just got to be able to finish the deal.”

Whittingham mentioned the punt return in ’16 and of last year’s loss, said, “We let them out of their own territory and me calling time out trying to give our kicker an opportunity,” referring to the timeout he called with just 23 seconds left with Washington at its own 30-yard line.

Instead of running out the clock, the Huskies completed consecutive passes of 18 and 31 yards and got down to the Utah 21 with four seconds left, then kicked the winning field goal.

“Some things didn’t work out in our favor,” said Whittingham, who was severely criticized by Ute fans for his timeout call. He said he was hoping to get the ball back for one last chance for his own field goal kicker, Matt Gay.

Forgotten in all the talk about the late timeout was the fact the Utah defense gave up a fourth-and-10 pass for 14 yards by Jake Browning to keep the touchdown drive going as well as a 28-yard pass down to the 2-yard line.

Browning is the one common factor since 2015 as he has been the starter in all three matchups. In the 2015 loss, he passed for 257 yards and a touchdown as the Huskies outgained the Utes, who were led by Booker’s 150 yards rushing.

In 2016, Browning only passed for 186 yards, completing 12 of 20 passes, but had two TD tosses, while last year, he completed 26 of 35 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns.

“Jake is extremely cerebral,” said Whittingham. “He’s a smart kid, he's a great decision-maker, he’s got poise, he’s got pocket presence, which is one of the most underrated aspects of being a quarterback. He has leadership qualities and seems to be exceptional in pressure situations.”

In the first two Pac-12 encounters between the two, the Huskies handily beat the Utes 31-14 in 2011 and 34-15 in 2012. Before that, the Utes lost six straight to Washington between 1931 and 1979 by an average score of 23-7. However, the total score of the past three games has been 88-87 for Utah, even though the Utes have just one win to show for it.

“We’ve played them very well and have to try to find a way to get over that hump,” said Whittingham.

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Utes on the air

  • No. 10 Washington (1-1) at Utah (2-0)
  • Rice-Eccles Stadium
  • Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: ESPN 700AM