Oct 15, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) scrambles away from the pressure of Utah Utes defensive end Gabe Reid (91) in the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 USC must avenge loss to No. 11 Utah to seal CFP bid

The Pac-12 Conference championship game on Friday in Las Vegas offers no shortage of stakes.

No. 4 Southern California is looking both to avenge its lone loss of 2022 and remain in contention for the College Football Playoff, while No. 11 Utah seeks a second straight league title and a shot at Rose Bowl redemption.

USC (11-1) completed its best regular season since 2008 with a 38-27 vicrory over Notre Dame on Saturday.

The Trojans’ place in the conference championship game was already set heading into the regular-season finale, but USC remained alive for a first-ever CFP berth and quarterback Caleb Williams bolstered his Heisman Trophy case with three rushing touchdowns and one passing TD.

“We have bigger goals in mind that I’m a part of,” Williams said at Tuesday’s media availability about being in line to win the Heisman. “I do get a little bit more texts and phone calls … but like I said, trying to block out all the noise.”

Williams’ standout debut season at USC this year included a 381-yard, five-touchdown passing performance when the Trojans last saw Utah on Oct. 15. The Utes ultimately came away with a 43-42 win, however, capped when quarterback Cameron Rising punctuated the last of his three rushing touchdowns on the game with a successful two-point conversion carry. Rising also threw for two scores in the win.

USC coach Lincoln Riley was adamant during his Tuesday media availability that he does not view Friday as “a revenge game.”

“That’s not what this is,” Riley said. “We played a really good football game, as did Utah, up in Salt Lake. It came down to one play here or there. They got us that time. But this is not about that game. This is a new game, a new challenge, a new setting (and) both teams have evolved.”

Utah (9-3) is playing in its fourth Pac-12 title game since 2018 and is looking for its second crown in that span. The Utes dominated Oregon 38-10 in the Pac-12 championship game a season ago, earning the program’s first-ever bid to the Rose Bowl.

The prospects of going back-to-back looked bleak for the Utes last Saturday when Oregon — which owned the head-to-head tiebreaker for the other berth in the conference title game — led rival Oregon State 34-17 in the early fourth quarter.

Twenty-one straight points gave Oregon State the win, which — coupled with Utah’s 63-21 blowout of Colorado later in the day — landed the Utes in Las Vegas.

“As we all know, very difficult to beat a really good team twice, but that’s what our challenge is,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in his press conference on Monday. “SC is ultra-talented, very efficient on offense. I know they’re not No. 1 in total offense, but they’re No. 1 in yards per play, which is to me, is more important.”

Indeed, while USC ranks fifth nationally in total offense at 506.6 yards per game — remarkably, good only for fourth in the Pac-12 — the Trojans’ 7.27 yards per play ranks third nationally behind only Tennessee’s 7.35 and Ohio State’s 7.30.

USC and Ohio State are two of the only three opponents that have posted 40-plus points against Utah over the past two seasons. The Trojans’ 42-point outburst in Salt Lake City was the most the Utes had given up since losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State 48-45.

Utah kept pace with USC in October thanks in part to tight end Dalton Kincaid, who went for 234 yards receiving in the win.

USC running back Travis Dye rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown against the Utes. He is out due to an injury, but backup Austin Jones gained 154 yards to give USC balance in last week’s defeat of the Fighting Irish.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) celebrates a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal in the fourth quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Utah RB Tavion Thomas to enter 2023 NFL Draft

Utah running back Tavion Thomas said Friday he will declare for the NFL draft, ending his career with the Utes.

The team’s leading rusher, Thomas said he will rehab a toe injury he sustained in Utah’s 20-17 loss last Saturday to Oregon but plans to return for the East-West Shrine Bowl on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas.

Utah concludes its regular season on Saturday at Colorado. At 8-3 (6-2 Pac-12), the Utes are eligible for a bowl game that Thomas won’t appear in.

It wasn’t too long before Thomas transferred to Utah that he was homeless as a result of “COVID and stuff back home,” in Dayton, Ohio, he told the Deseret News last year. And he expressed how grateful he was to the Utah community on Twitter.

“I look forward to getting back and dominating in the Shrine Game,” he wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Most importantly, I want to say thank you to every single person that embraced me here and gave me this opportunity that changed my life. I will never forget the moments and memories I have here and I will forever be a Ute.”

Thomas played at Independence Community College and Cincinnati before transferring to Utah in 2021.

Last season, he was a first-team all-conference selection after carrying the ball 204 times for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns — the latter tops in the Pac-12 and third among FBS players. He added 687 yards and seven touchdowns this season and played 23 total career games in a Utah uniform.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Eugene, Oregon, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive back Bennett Williams (4) tackles Utah Utes wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) during the first half at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

No. 12 Oregon has just enough to edge No. 10 Utah

Bo Nix, a game-time decision to play despite a sore right foot, passed for 287 yards to lead No. 12 Oregon to a 20-17 victory over No. 10 Utah on Saturday at Eugene, Ore.

Nix, who sustained the injury in last week’s loss to Washington, completed 25 of 37 pass attempts with a touchdown and interception.

Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) and No. 7 USC (10-1, 8-1) are the only teams with one conference loss.

Utah (8-3, 6-2) had the opportunity to cut into Oregon’s 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Utes turned the ball over on downs at the Ducks’ 26-yard line with 6:54 remaining. Cameron Rising’s pass on fourth-and-2 fell incomplete.

Nix completed a 50-yard pass in the next possession but threw an interception, which was returned to the Utah 26.

The Utes made one first down, but Rising then threw his third interception of the game. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 170 yards.

Utah’s last possession ended with another turnover on downs when Solomon Enis dropped Rising’s pass on a fourth-and-6 at midfield with 1:57 left.

Nix set the tone by completing eight of his first nine passes for 70 yards. His 4-yard touchdown pass to Troy Franklin gave the Ducks a 14-3 lead with 10:28 left in the second quarter.

The Ducks’ defense limited Utah to 134 yards in total offense in the first half, but it lost safety Jamal Hill to a targeting call for the second time this season.

Utah’s offense responded in the third quarter with 110 yards of total offense while Oregon was held to 32 after amassing 245 in the first half.

The momentum shifted in the second half to Utah right away when Karene Reid recovered a fumble by Dont’e Thornton on Oregon’s first offensive play and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 17-10.

After consecutive three-and-out possessions by Oregon, Utah produced a touchdown-scoring drive of 86 yards on 13 plays that took seven minutes off the clock.

The possession culminated with Jaylen Dixon’s 18-yard touchdown run, which tied the game at 17 with 2:39 left in the third quarter.

Oregon put together a 15-play possession but couldn’t find the end zone after reaching the Utah 24. The Ducks settled for Camden Lewis’ 41-yard field goal to take the lead 20-17 with 11:17 remaining.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) changes a play at the line scrimmage in the first quarter against the Oregon State Beavers at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Another pivotal November Pac-12 pairing for No. 10 Utah, No. 12 Oregon

Utah and Oregon meet in a crucial matchup late in the season for the second consecutive year with Pac-12 supremacy on the line Saturday at Eugene, Ore.

The Utes routed Oregon 38-7 last November at Salt Lake City, effectively putting an end to the Ducks’ College Football Playoff hopes. Oregon entered that game as the No. 4 team, and a win all but assured a spot in the CFP semifinals.

Utah emerged as the Pac-12 South’s representative in the conference title game against Oregon, which won the Pac-12 North. The Utes beat the Ducks again to claim the title and a bid to the Rose Bowl.

Divisions were scrapped by the Pac-12 in 2022, with the top two teams in the conference placed in the league title game.

No. 10 Utah (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) enters Saturday’s game as the higher-ranked team in the CFP. Oregon (8-2, 6-1) is rated No. 12.

The Utes have been a regular November contender, chasing a spot in the conference championship game in six of the last eight seasons.

“We’ve been in the hunt for a lot of years deep into the season,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It speaks to the talent and just the competitiveness of our players. You go back and why do we have those type of players? Because our assistant coaches do such a great job of bringing in the right type of player into this program.”

Utah has won four straight games — three at home — including a 43-42 win over No. 7 USC on Oct. 15.

Oregon is coming off a 37-34 loss at home against Washington, snapping the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak after their opening defeat to Georgia, the No. 1 team in the country in this week’s poll.

The Ducks allowed 522 yards of total offense to Washington, including 408 passing yards by Michael Penix Jr. The Huskies converted 5 of their 9 third-down attempts and forced only one punt. They allowed scores on seven of nine offensive drives for Washington.

“What’s the hard truth? We’re not playing well on defense right now,” said Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who was the defensive coordinator at Georgia before hired to lead the Ducks this season.

“I don’t think it takes a lot of people to look at that and see it,” he continued about Oregon’s defensive shortcomings against Washington.

Oregon’s primary concern might be the secondary, where players have shifted to new roles on the fly.

Safety Trikweze Bridges was moved to cornerback. Safeties Bennett Williams and Jamal Hill together have played together more with Bryan Addison sometimes joining them on nickel packages.

The Ducks tried placing top cornerback Christian Gonzalez closer to the line and moving Bridges and Dontae Manning to the outside. Those experiments are likely to continue.

“Even though the result doesn’t always change, that doesn’t mean you can’t change your approach,” Lanning said. “And I’m going to continue to look for ways to change the approach as we move forward.”

Utah’s Cameron Rising will lead the Utes against the makeshift Oregon defense.

The reigning All-Pac-12 quarterback has completed 181 passes in 273 attempts for 2,225 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) reacts after a play against the Stanford Cardinal in the first quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 13 Utah throttles Stanford, earns fourth straight win

Tavion Thomas rushed for a career-high 180 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead No. 13 Utah to a convincing 42-7 victory over visiting Stanford in Pac-12 play on Saturday night at Salt Lake City.

Cameron Rising completed 20 of 33 passes for 219 yards, three touchdowns and one interception as the Utes (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) scored the game’s final 42 points. Utah has won four straight games and stands a half-game behind first-place Southern California, which it defeated last month.

Devaughn Vele, Micah Bernard, Thomas Yassmin and Logan Kendall caught touchdown passes for Utah, which finished its home slate with a 6-0 record. Simote Pepa had two of the Utes’ seven sacks.

Tanner McKee completed 11 of 23 passes for 155 yards and rushed for a touchdown for Stanford (3-7, 1-7), which clinched a losing campaign for the third time in four seasons. Elijah Higgins caught seven passes for 105 yards.

The Utes outgained the Cardinal 514 to 177 and had a 29-9 edge in first downs. Utah controlled the ball for 34 minutes, 31 seconds while winning for the 25th time in its past 26 home games.

Thomas’ previous career high was last season, when he rushed for 177 yards and four touchdowns against Stanford.

The Utes began to pull away with three touchdowns in the third quarter.

Rising tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Yassmin to give Utah a 21-7 lead with 8:49 left in the third quarter. Rising also threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Bernard with 5:14 to play in the period.

Nate Johnson subbed in for Rising during the ensuing possession and he connected with Kendall on a 16-yard scoring pass to make it 35-7 with 1:37 remaining.

Thomas capped his big outing with a 36-yard scoring run with 8:32 left in the contest.

Utah outgained Stanford 239 to 91 in the first half and held a 14-7 advantage.

The Cardinal struck first on McKee’s 1-yard keeper with 3:40 left in the first quarter.

The Utes tied the score on Rising’s 9-yard pass to Vele with 12:49 left in the second quarter and took the lead six-plus minutes later when Thomas scored on a 4-yard run.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) prepares the throw the ball against the Arizona Wildcats in the fourth quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 13 Utah attempts to keep pressure on reeling Stanford

David Shaw has won a lot of games as Stanford coach, but his squad is one loss away from clinching its third losing campaign in four years.

Shaw will try to rally his team from a demoralizing setback when the Cardinal battle No. 13 Utah (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

Stanford (3-6, 1-6) was pummeled 52-14 by visiting Washington State last weekend for the team’s second consecutive blowout loss. The Cardinal lost 38-13 at UCLA the previous week.

Few people will expect the Cardinal to beat the Utes, and Shaw understands that mindset.

“I’ll take anything I can get right now,” Shaw said Tuesday afternoon. “Whether guys are motivated to go win or if guys think, ‘Hey, it is us against the world.’ We’ll take all that.

“We have to go in and not be shy and not tiptoe into the stadium. We have to go in there face first and give it the best effort that we have.”

Shaw is in his 12th season at Stanford and possesses a 96-51 record. The Cardinal have racked up five seasons of 10 or more wins during his tenure but appear en route to missing out on a bowl berth for the fourth consecutive season.

Shaw points to injuries as a major problem and said that four of the team’s top five tacklers are questionable to play against Utah. That group consists of linebackers Levani Damuni (team-high 52 stops) and Ricky Miezan (38) and safeties Kendall Williamson (48) and Patrick Fields (39).

That is problematic as the Cardinal gave up 306 rushing yards against Washington State — which is the same amount Utah’s offense ran for last week in a 45-20 home rout of Arizona.

And last season, the visiting Utes rushed for 441 yards while routing Stanford 52-7.

This season, the Utes are again clicking and have scored more than 40 points in three of their past five games.

Utah is 5-0 at home this season, including a 43-42 win over then-No. 7 Southern California on Oct. 15. The Utes have won 24 of their last 25 home contests.

Utah also needs wins to improve its positioning in the College Football Playoff. The Utes are 13th and trail Pac-12 foes Oregon (No. 6), USC (8) and UCLA (12).

Utes quarterback Cam Rising is playing through a knee injury that caused him to miss a 21-17 road win over Washington State on Oct. 27. He played against Arizona and passed for 151 yards and one touchdown.

“It felt good to be back out there with the guys and just running the offense again,” Rising said.

Rising has passed for 2,006 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hopes Rising will be closer to top form against the Cardinal.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he usually is, but that’ll come, and it was great to have him back in the lineup,” Whittingham said of Rising’s performance against the Wildcats. “Overall, another step in the right direction for us, as things wind down and we are still in the thick of it.”

The Utes reached the Rose Bowl last season and are hopeful for another trip this season.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Devaughn Vele (17) has a pass knocked away by Arizona Wildcats cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace (4) in the first quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Utah uses rushing attack to rout Arizona

No. 14 Utah grabbed an early lead and then leaned on its running game while its defense recovered four fumbles to keep visiting Arizona at bay in a 45-20 win on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

The Utes (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) ran 55 times for 306 yards, attempting only four passes after halftime while delivering the Wildcats (3-6, 1-5) their fourth consecutive loss. Utah quarterback Cam Rising, who missed the team’s previous game with an undisclosed injury, completed 13 of 25 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown.

Ja’Quinden Jackson had 13 rushes for 97 yards and a touchdown, and Jaylon Glover gained 69 yards on eight attempts. Both left the game in the third quarter with injuries and did not return.

The team’s leading rusher, Tavion Thomas, who had missed the previous game, then made his first appearance and finished with eight carries for 38 yards. Micah Bernard contributed 48 yards on 12 attempts.

Arizona’s Jayden de Laura completed 10 of 20 throws for 159 yards but was lifted after Utah went up 38-10 on Rising’s touchdown pass to Thomas Yassmin with 10:16 to go.

Utah, playing without tight end Dalton Kincaid after he was injured in the previous game, led 28-10 at halftime and added a 27-yard field goal with 4:31 to go in the third quarter for a 31-10 advantage. The Wildcats never threatened after that, scoring their last 10 points in the final 2:31.

Early in the game, the Utes scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives to take a 21-7 lead with 11:21 to go in the second quarter.

That was still the score when Arizona’s Jacob Cowing muffed a punt in the rain, with Utah recovering at the Wildcats 9. One play later, Nate Johnson took a direct snap and rushed around the left end for a touchdown with 3:23 left before halftime. The Wildcats added a 30-yard field goal in the final minute to make it 28-10 at the half.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) throws against the USC Trojans in the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Utah hosts Arizona but lineup mystery lingers

Utah enters the final month of the regular season at No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings, hunting a Pac-12 title. But multiple mysteries muddy the waters as the Utes prepare to face Arizona on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Utah (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) was without several key players, including quarterback Cam Rising, in a 21-17 victory at Washington State on Oct. 27. Coach Kyle Whittingham, who doesn’t talk about injuries unless they are season-ending, did not rule out anybody new during his Monday press conference.

But who’s in? Who knows.

Whittingham did add: “Cam is much further ahead today than he was a week ago today” and that “we certainly hope so” when asked if Rising would play Saturday.

Standout tight end Dalton Kincaid left the Washington State game with a shoulder injury, leaving the Utes thin at what was a strong position. Brant Kuithe is out for the season with a torn ACL. Kincaid has a team-high 46 catches for 614 yards and seven scores, and Utah would need more out of a pedestrian receiving corps if he is unavailable.

The team’s leading rusher, Tavion Thomas, missed the Washington State game, and Whittingham only offered “nothing to divulge there,” on Monday.

Utah is tied for third with UCLA in the conference standings, trailing Oregon (5-0) and USC (5-1). Arizona (3-5, 1-4) has lost three consecutive games but isn’t the same pushover as last season, when it went 1-11 overall in coach Jedd Fisch’s first season.

The Wildcats are averaging 32.2 points per game, up by an average of 15 from last season.

“Our offense is hitting on all cylinders right now,” Fisch said. “I think we’ve moved up 80 spots (nationally) in almost every offensive category. So that’s what’s exciting.”

Quarterback Jayden de Laura is fourth nationally in passing (331.8 yards per game), and the trio of Jacob Cowing, Dorian Singer and Tetairoa McMillan form one of the most productive receiving corps in the nation.

Defense, however, remains a major issue for the Wildcats, who are allowing 475.0 yards per game and haven’t recorded a sack during their three-game skid. Arizona is also minus-0.62 in turnover margin for the season, needing a clean game to compete against the better teams on its schedule.

“We’ve got to find a way to just bring the point total down, get off the field a couple more times, and then take the ball away,” Fisch said. “If we can just take the ball away a few times, that’ll make a huge difference.”

For Utah, if Rising can’t go, walk-on Bryson Barnes would get his second start. He completed 17 of 27 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown against Washington State, also rushing for 51 yards.

“Bryson Barnes did an exceptional job under the circumstances,” Whittingham said. “Given the preparation, the lack thereof, he responded well.”

The Utes’ defense, which allowed 42 points in back-to-back games against UCLA (10-point loss) and Southern California (one-point win) before playing Washington State, will be without co-leading tackler R.J. Hubert in the first half. He was ejected for targeting in the second half against the Cougars.

–Field Level Media

Oct 27, 2022; Pullman, Washington, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) breaks away from Washington State Cougars defensive lineman Nusi Malani (15) in the first half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Backup QB Bryson Barnes guides No. 14 Utah past Wazzu

No. 14 Utah prevailed 21-17 against Washington State on Thursday in Pullman, Wash., despite starting quarterback Cam Rising being a late scratch because of a left knee injury.

Bryson Barnes made his first career start in place of Rising, who was in uniform but remained on the sideline.

Barnes completed a touchdown pass and was not intercepted in his 17-of-27 passing performance. He threw for 175 yards and also ran for 51 yards on eight carries.

Utah (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) recovered an onside kick at its 45-yard line with 4:39 left after Washington State (4-4, 1-4) cut the lead to 21-17 on Dean Janikowski’s career-best, 42-yard field goal.

On third-and-9 at the Washington State 43, Barnes kept the driving going completing a 10-yard pass to Devaughn Vele with 2:59 left.

The Cougars burned their last timeout with 2:27 remaining.

Utah ran the clock to 55 seconds left before calling a timeout with the ball at the Washington State 30.

Barnes attempted a pass on fourth-and-7 and the Cougars were called for defensive holding, securing the first down and the victory for the Utes.

Utah scored three unanswered touchdowns after Washington State hit the end zone first.

The Cougars opened the scoring with 13:24 left in the second quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Ward to De’Zhaun Stribling.

Ja’Quinden Jackson scored on a 6-yard run and Jaylon Glover a 1-yard run before halftime to put the Utes ahead 14-7.

Jackson and Glover, both freshmen, got the bulk of the carries with Utah’s leading rusher Tavion Thomas (414 yards this season) out for an undisclosed reason.

Glover finished with 76 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, and Jackson ran 10 times for 43 yards.

Barnes built the lead to 21-7 with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Kincaid with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter.

Washington State answered quickly going 72 yards on six plays in 1:53, capped by Ward’s 6-yard scamper for the score with 14:17 left.

Ward completed 27 of 31 pass attempts for 222 yards. He was not intercepted.

Jackson fumbled and Washington State’s Tanner Moku recovered at the Utah 37 with 8:01 remaining.

The Cougars stalled after driving to the red zone, eventually settling for Janikowski’s field goal that cut the lead to four.

–Field Level Media

Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward (1) scrambles from Oregon State linebacker Omar Speights (1) during the fourth quarter at Reser Stadium at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

Ncaa Football Washington State At Oregon State 2007

No. 14 Utah, after bye week, hopes to maintain momentum at Wazzu

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is pleased that the 14th-ranked Utes will return to action earlier than normal this week when they visit Washington State on Thursday.

The Utes had a bye last week following a 43-42 home win over then-No. 7 Southern California on Oct. 15.

“I think this is the ideal scenario, if you have a bye, to have it come (ahead of) a Thursday (game) so you get an extra couple of days the following week,” Whittingham said. “I think sometimes you can get a little stale going the full two weeks, so I think if you were to map it out, this is exactly how we would want it to play out.”

Washington State is in the same situation, having last played Oct. 15 at Oregon State, a 24-10 loss.

The Utes (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) need to keep winning to keep pace with No. 8 Oregon (6-1, 4-0) in the Pac-12 standings. Those teams play will meet in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 19.

Washington State (4-3, 1-3) is hoping to end its two-game losing streak, with both losses coming on the road against USC and Oregon State.

The Cougars are 3-1 at home. Utah is 1-2 on the road.

Washington State’s focus preparing for the Utes is improving protection for quarterback Cameron Ward.

The Cougars have allowed 26 sacks, which has contributed to the team being ranked last in the Pac-12 in rushing yardage (89.4 yards per game).

“We need to protect (Ward) the right way so we can get through our progressions and ultimately eliminate these negative plays,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “We have some momentum (in games), then we can’t overcome these negative plays within a series.

“That’s been the story of the three-and-outs, that’s been the story of not sustaining drives.”

Utah is traditionally strong against the run, but the Utes rank just seventh in the Pac-12 in that category, allowing 142 yards a game. They finished atop the conference last season, giving up 122.5 rushing yards per game.

Utah’s pass defense tops the Pac-12 (208.1 yards a game allowed), elevating the overall defense ranking to first in the conference (350.1 total yards yielded per game).

“When we have had issues, it’s primarily run defense this season,” Whittingham said. “That’s been a concern through the first half of the season.”

The matchup with the Cougars could very well be a defensive battle.

Washington State ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.7 points allowed a game).

The Cougars are led by linebacker Daiyan Henley, a transfer from Nevada who ranks second in the Pac-12 with 11 tackles for loss.

Ward has passed for 1,962 yards (completing 175 of 277 pass attempts) through seven games after accumulating 4,648 yards in 13 games last season at Incarnate Word.

He has led an efficient Washington State offense in the red zone, with the Cougars scoring on 92.3 percent of their red-zone opportunities.

Their scoring offense, however, ranks 10th in the Pac-12 at 24.6 points per game.

“When we get in the red zone, we’re really efficient,” Dickert said. “We just stall out before we get there. That has been an emphasis (during the bye week).”

–Field Level Media