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Weekly picks: Utes will exact some revenge on Washington, while USU-BYU a toss up

You can make a case for Kyle Whittingham getting his first win over Chris Petersen this Saturday, but the Utah State-BYU matchup looks about even

SHARE Weekly picks: Utes will exact some revenge on Washington, while USU-BYU a toss up

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall finds a running lane against the USF Bulls at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2019.

Robert W. Grover, For the Deseret News

This week creates a big stage for Utah State, BYU and Utah in games many believe will be close, hard-fought battles that will go down to the wire.

Utah travels to Washington where the Huskies have been very stingy and wins are hard to come by. However, the Ute defense is playing so well that this key Pac-12 showdown could be the road trip to Seattle Kyle Whittingham has waited for.  

UW coach Chris Petersen has owned Whittingham over the years. But this year the Utah coach has the weapons to win.

Utah State is better than the team that got run over at Air Force last week in a cold, ball hog extravaganza by one of the better Air Force teams in decades. This week they’ll face a motivated BYU team that threw some tweaks at No. 14 Boise State in an upset and has had two weeks to prepare for the Aggies.

Honestly, these games have the markings of classic battles come Saturday. Predicting them, even with science and data, is a tough chore.

Harmon’s picks, Nov. 1

This week’s picks:

Michigan 28, Maryland 21

Florida 24, Georgia 21

Air Force 32, Army 21

TCU 34, Oklahoma State 31

Oregon 42, USC 24

Virginia 24, North Carolina 21

SMU 37, Memphis 24

East Carolina 24, Cincinnati 21

Arizona 24, Oregon State 21

Utah 17, Washington 14

UCLA 24, Colorado 21

Hawaii 28, Fresno State 24

South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 17

BYU 24, Utah State 21

Last week: 7-7; Overall 121-79 (.619)

Utah beats Washington and the Utes will have a cakewalk to the Pac-12 championship game — if USC falters. ESPN’s power index gives the Utes an 89 percent chance of beating UCLA, 85 percent nod over Arizona and 94.2 percent chance of dispatching Colorado in the regular-season finale.

That same index has Washington favored in this game with Utah given a 47.1 chance of beating the Huskies in Seattle. But somehow, you have to believe this Utah defense will wreak all kinds of havoc for Petersen, and the Ute offense is tuned to take advantage of that with efficiency.

The BYU-USU game will come down to motivation and desire because they’ll be playing in polar frigid conditions and it will require a lot of focus and intensity to keep things hot on both sidelines.

The Aggies have found that motivation against BYU in two straight wins. The Cougars are late coming to the party, but last year’s blowout in Provo by the Aggies is great incentive, and three in a row would confirm USU’s sales pitch that they have surpassed BYU’s program.

For the Cougars, the independent life demands that they win games like this, especially when punching down in losses to Toledo and South Florida. Wins at Tennessee and upsets of ranked USC and Boise State prove that when the Cougars punch up and are motivated, they produce differently.

Forced changes in approach, practice, and play calls after losses to Toledo and South Florida uncovered some evidence that Kalani Sitake has taken a different approach with his team.

Sitake confessed during his weekly appearance on BYUtv, “We play pretty good when we have something to prove and (0-2 versus USU) we have something to prove.”

The Aggies are given a 50.3 percent (ESPN index) chance of beating BYU in Maverik Stadium Saturday night, a game that kicks off at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 with temperatures in the teens. One factor is just how playing a nonconference game in the middle of league play sits with Aggie players; does the passionate dislike for the Cougars kick in and carry?

The Cougars, dogs in nearly every game this season and four of them in September against Power 5 opponents, have a No. 7 strength of schedule by USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin.

Of interest are the rankings by Sagarin. Utah is 13th, Washington is 17th, USC 25th, Boise State 27th, Utah State 51st and BYU 63rd.

In ESPN’s Power Index, Utah is 13th, Washington 15th, USC 21st, Boise State 30th, BYU 57th and Utah State 60th.

You can make a case for Utah’s defense leading a win over Washington. The motivation being in a defensive struggle last year in the Pac-12 championship, some fluke plays went against Utah late, and that will fuel this Whittingham team to carry a shoulder chip to Seattle. On the other hand, UW rarely loses in that stadium but did last week against Oregon.

Since Utah lost at USC, the Ute defense has allowed just 23 points in four league wins.

The Aggies simply harbor a lot of emotion toward BYU, and the Cougars will feel that blast hard. BYU generally plays far better away from home when motivated and this definitely is a case where Sitake has the attention of his staff and players.

I like BYU’s front seven against USU’s offensive line, and I like USU’s speed with skilled positions and kickoff returns to give BYU a real problem. The difference could be laid on the arm of USU quarterback Jordan Love. If he is on, BYU is in trouble. If he is not, the Cougars have a chance to keep this one interesting down to the wire.

USU has disrupted, sidelined and forced QB shuffles at BYU dating back to Jake Heaps’ replacement by Riley Nelson and two season-ending injuries to Taysom Hill. The last time BYU played in Logan (2017), BYU went through Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer Jr. 

Utah holds a commanding advantage in 35 key statistical categories over Washington (24 to 10). BYU holds a slim 17-15 edge in those same 35 categories over USU. These are two of the worst teams in scoring TDs in the red zone.

Gentlemen, start your sideline heaters.