Rice-Eccles gears up for Huskies, Pac-12 play


SALT, LAKE City -- Weather will not be an issue in the first Pac-12 game inside Rice-Eccles Stadium. It's warm and beautiful with a scattering of clouds lingering around the mountains.

What will be an issue is Washington's front seven and whether it can force Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn to throw to win.

The Huskies defense has been mediocre-to-bad so far, but it showed some life last weekend in the second half against California. It has been solid against the run but it has yielded 327.5 yards passing per game, which ranks last in the Pac-12.

So why would the Huskies want Utah to throw into a vulnerable secondary? Because the Utes are a run-first team with RB John White, but also because there are still questions about Wynn's arm. He had offseason shoulder surgery and has improved each week -- a bye week also should help -- but his throwing motion seems different and the velocity of his passes appears down.

Will that remain the case this evening? The Huskies likely want to force that question to be answered. Of course, it's entirely possible that Wynn is back to his swashbuckling self and could make the Huskies pay for their potential skepticism. We'll see.

Another trend to watch: Huskies quarterback Keith Price throwing touchdown passes. The sophomore has thrown 14 so far, which is tied for the national lead.

The Huskies have a lot of weapons on offense to help Price, starting with RB Chris Polk and a deep crew of receivers. But the Utes defense has been pretty salty thus far, ranking second in the conference in scoring defense (14. 3 ppg). The Utes give up yards -- 342.7 per game -- but they force a lot of turnovers, their 12 being four more than any other conference team. They are No. 1 in the conference in redzone defense. The Huskies are pretty good in the redzone, however, scoring 13 touchdowns in 18 trips.

Here are two other numbers for you. If the game is close, and there are plenty of reasons to believe it will be, Washington has won its last seven games decided by eight points or fewer.

That factoid stacks up against this: The Utes are 41-7 in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which will shortly be considered one of the conference's loudest venues.

The winner may gain enough momentum to enter the national polls.

For Utah, a victory would set it up for a critical visit from Arizona State, a game that could go a long way toward determining who wins the Pac-12 South Division.

On the other hand, if Utah falls to 0-2 in Pac-12 play, Utes fans might have to endure some tweaks from old Pac-10 fans -- "This ain't the Mountain West!"

At least until the Sun Devils come to town.