The Washington Huskies want to go to the Rose Bowl, and the Utah Utes are standing in the way.
The two teams will meet in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Huskies beat the Washington State Cougars Saturday night 28-15 to clinch the North Division, and the Huskies are 3.5-point favorites, per OddsShark. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox.
These two teams met earlier in the season, and Washington defeated Utah 21-7 in Salt Lake City. The Washington defense has been solid all season. It held explosive Washington State to 15 points in the Apple Cup, and it would be difficult to see Utah scoring more than a couple of touchdowns.
Washington has the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12. The Huskies have allowed 16.5 points and 311.3 yards per game, while Utah is second in that category by allowing 19.3 points and 315.8 yards per game.
Washington head coach Chris Petersen knows his players have to be well prepared if they are going to get past the Utes.
"You better get your mind right," Petersen said, per Lauren Kirschman of The News Tribune. "Our guys know it's going to be like that. … They don't give you anything. Lot of man coverage. Pack the box and they are extremely active and aggressive. They get off the blocks and they just have really good players across the board."
Washington is keyed by quarterback Jake Browning, who has thrown for 2,962 yards and 16 touchdowns. Running back Myles Gaskin has 1,076 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. They have also received a solid contribution from wide receiver Aaron Fuller, who has caught 49 passes for 754 yards and gotten into the end zone 10 times.
Gaskin came through with his biggest play of the year against Washington State. He sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown that gave the Huskies breathing room in the game.
Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is Washington's most visible defensive star, and he leads the team with 155 tackles, four forced fumbles and 4.0 tackles for loss.
Utah could have seen its season ruined by injuries, but head coach Kyle Whittingham has kept his team on track.
Starting quarterback Tyler Huntley broke his collarbone and Jason Shelley took over. Huntley threw for 1,788 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions before the injury, and Shelley has done quite well in his absence. He has completed 54-of-96 passes for 723 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Starting running back Zack Moss had been having a brilliant year, gaining 1,092 yards with a 6.1 yards-per-carry average and had gotten into the end zone 11 times. Moss suffered a season-ending knee injury in a November practice, and Armand Shyne has replaced him. He has 276 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton lead the Utah defense, and they have combined for 197 tackles and 32 tackles for loss.
Utah is a hard-hitting, tough and defensive-minded team. They have overcome serious injuries that would have ruined many other teams.
The Utes should be ready to compete hard against Washington, but the Huskies should have a big advantage because Browning is an excellent quarterback who has proved his ability to win big games.
Look for Browning to come through when the game is on the line. Washington wins by at least seven points and earns a spot in the Rose Bowl.