The Utah State Aggies have had trouble on the road against Power 5 teams in their history. Saturday hopes to be a different story. To find out more and to get inside Saturday's matchup, I had the chance to speak with Kirk DeGrasse from UW Dawg Pound about the keys to the game, who to look out for, and the outcome.
Connor Comeau: We've seen over the years just how good Utah State's defense can be, ranking in the top 20 the past few years. What will be some keys for the Washington offense to get the upper hand?
Kirk DeGrasse: Given the aggressive nature of the Aggie defense, a green OL will need to show they can recognize and pick up the Utah State blitzes and young QB Jake Browning will need to identify the empty zones. They also need to show they can establish a productive and consistent run game - doing it against Sacramento State was nice, but doesn't mean a whole lot against upper-tier FBS programs. Either/both of running backs Dwayne Washington and Myles Gaskin will need to show they can move the chains and give the Huskies easy 3rd down situations.
CC: With Chuckie Keeton back but probably not at a hundred percent, how does that affect the mindset and the gameplan of the Huskie defense knowing he's under center?
KD: The Huskies haven't shown a tendency to blitz a lot under DC Pete Kwiatkowski. Last year they were able to generate tremendous pass rush with their front four, but with all of them gone there's been a drop-off. Still, I don't expect him to dial up a huge number of blitzes - I expect he'll lean on his secondary to buy the DL extra time to get pressure on Keeton. You should also expect to see a great deal of rotating along the DL to keep them fresh, and that could result in the DL winning battles in the 3rd & 4th quarters that they weren't in the first half.
CC: Husky Stadium has been notoriously known for being one of the loudest stadiums in college football. Will that have any effect on Utah State? If so, how?
KD: Truth be told, it's been a while since Husky Stadium was consistently one of the loudest stadiums in the country. The design makes it possible, but the way the program cratered from 2005-2008 really ate away at the fan base, and the consistent sellouts and Seahawks level intensity has not (yet) returned. It will be loud at time on defense, but probably not something the Aggies haven't experienced before. Check back in a few years when after Petersen has fully rebuilt the program.
CC: Even though they were on the losing end, the Huskies played a close game against Boise State in the opener two weeks ago. Knowing that, does it feel that Coach Petersen has enough confidence in his players to make a serious run at not just a PAC-12 title but a possible NY6 bowl berth?
KD: While I'm expecting the Huskies to do better than the Vegas over/under lines pinning the 2015 win total at around 4.5, this is not the year when I think the Huskies seriously challenge for the PAC-12 title or a prime bowl. There's just too much youth and inexperience across the roster at this point, so getting to 6 wins in the regular season is a more reasonable goal. It's not hard to imagine however that by 2017 these same Huskies are a legit conference title contender ready to knock Oregon off their throne. There's plenty of young talent on the roster - it just needs another year or two of experience and coaching under this staff to get there.
CC: Utah State, as we know, can give other teams problems on both side of the ball. Who are some X-Factors for Washington on both offense and defense that will need to step up?
KD: The obvious answer on offense is Browning - the expectation is that he's going to continue to grow as he gets more college experience, and this will be a really good test. He'll need help though - TE Josh Perkins will likely be his go-to safety valve, and as noted above he'll need one of his running backs to step up (keep an eye on the true frosh Gaskin). On defense this would be a good week for talented JR DE JoJo Mathis to have a break out game and continually harass Keeton; his line-mate Elijah Qualls at NT/DT also has legitimate pass-rush skills. We're also waiting for BUCK (OLB) Travis Freeney to have a big game; he's got the talent and has had flashes in recent years, but has been rather quiet this year with the change in position. CB Sidney Jones is a true SO that showed last season he might be the next in what's a growing line of elite corners at Washington (Desmond Trufant, Marcus Peters) but has yet to really flash so far this season.
CC: Right now the line has the Huskies as 3-point favorites. What's your prediction for the outcome?
KD: Hard to say - looking at the game last week vs. Utah I could see the Husky defense getting a lot of heat on a gimpy Keeton, and I think the Husky offense will continue to grow and should provide a much better passing attack threat than the Utes did with Kendal Thompson filling in at QB, though the run game is probably not as good (Devantae Booker is a stud). I think the blitzing nature of the Utah State defense could really cause havoc with this offense, but I also expect Browning to hit on a few throws that exploit that aggressiveness. Ultimately I think it will be another in a long line of very hard-fought games Utah State has played on the road against P5 conference teams, and another close loss for the Aggies as the Huskies scratch out at 27-17 win.
Thank you again to Kirk DeGrasse for taking the time to answer some questions! You can visit the UW Dawg Pound site here.