HEADLINE

No. 18 Washington sets sights on Utah, Pac-12 North title

Sports Xchange

November 15, 2017 at 2:17 am.

Washington has been eliminated from College Football Playoff consideration after checking in at No. 18 in Tuesday’s latest rankings.

In fact, the Huskies aren’t even favorites to win the Pac-12 North.

The Huskies (8-2, 5-2) are part of a three-team battle to win the North Division after Friday’s costly loss to Stanford. So there truly isn’t a reason to use the P-word as Washington prepares for Saturday’s home game against Utah.

“Well, we never talk about the playoffs. Ever. So that’s not even a discussion,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said at a press conference. “We just play. We got two more games and we’re focused on the next one. So two good teams coming and we’ll see what happens after this next week.

“It’s just about one week and if we start looking about championships and all that, your focus isn’t right.”

Stanford and Washington State are in better position to claim the North’s berth in the Pac-12 title game than the Huskies. Washington State is the frontrunner and would claim the spot with two wins, one which would be over Washington in the annual Apple Cup.

Petersen was told a Stanford loss to California this weekend would help his team’s chances and he quickly put a stop to the line of questioning.

“It doesn’t matter what happens (in that game),” Petersen said. “We have no say over that. All we can control is playing as hard as we can. Let’s play this week, let’s get to the following week. These will be two really tough games and I know this: We’ll feel really good about ourselves if we can get that done.”

Utah is interested in playing spoilers but it has problems of its own. The Utes (5-5, 2-5) have dropped five of six games since a 4-0 start.

The residue of last Saturday’s 33-25 loss to Washington State is hard to shake. Utah committed seven turnovers (four interceptions, three fumbles) that led to 23 Cougars’ points.

“Can’t win a football game when you turn the ball over seven times,” Whittingham said. “That is the obvious takeaway.”

Just as apparent is that the Utes traditionally have trouble with the Huskies. Utah is 1-9 all-time against Washington and catch the Huskies coming off a bitter setback.

“They will be an angry football team,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. They are a talented team, they are strong in all three phases. They have probably the best punt returner (Dante Pettis) in the country, possibly the best of all time.”

Pettis averages a national-leading 21.7 yards per punt return and has returned four for scores this season. He set the NCAA career mark of nine earlier this month.

Pettis also leads the squad with 54 catches for 612 yards and seven scores, but Washington’s passing game hasn’t been all that ferocious. Junior quarterback Jake Browning hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in three of the past four games despite being tied with Keith Price (75 from 2010-13) for the school’s all-time touchdown passes mark.

The running game is a different matter as junior Myles Gaskin has topped 100 yards in three straight games and five of the past seven. Gaskin, who gained 1,038 yards this season, is tied for the school record of 37 career rushing touchdowns, matching Bishop Sankey (2011-13).

Utah ranks 45th nationally against the run at 143.1 yards per game and allows 24.1 points per game. Kavika Luafatasaga leads the unit with 66 tackles while fellow senior linebacker Sunia Tauteoli has a team-best 10 tackles for losses.

Utes sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley was intercepted three times in the loss to Washington State one week after throwing four touchdown passes against UCLA. He has passed for 1,953 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Sophomore running back Zack Moss (772 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and senior receiver Darren Carrington II (58 receptions for 830 yards and six touchdowns) are enjoying solid campaigns.

The Huskies rank third nationally in pass defense (155.9) despite losing two starting cornerbacks early in the season. Junior defensive tackle Vita Vea is thriving in the trenches with 30 tackles and three sacks.

Washington is focusing on bouncing back as Petersen figures there were a bunch of happy coaches around the Pac-12 to see his club suffer its second loss.

“It’s not always going to be a bed of roses,” Petersen said. “The gritty teams, they’re going to come back right to work. Everybody around the conference is throwing a party that we lost.”

Meanwhile, the Utes are aiming for at least one more victory — they close the regular season with Colorado — so they can receive an opportunity to build on the program’s gaudy 16-4 record in bowl games.

“We are not going to lay down,” Utah sophomore receiver Demari Simpkins said. “We will keep fighting and we have another chance to get bowl eligible. That is the goal.”

 

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