By the numbers: Utah vs. Washington State

— Brent Uberty

After defeating Michigan 26-10 on the road, the 3-0 Utes will now face 1-3 Washington State and its high powered, air-raid offense led by quarterback Connor Halliday. We’re going to take a look at this weekend’s matchup by the numbers in order to get a better look at both the Utes and Cougars.
 
Offense:
 
This weekend’s matchup will feature two of the Pac-12’s more high powered offenses with Utah quarterback Travis Wilson going head-to-head with Wazzu signal caller Connor Halliday. Wilson currently ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency with a 65.5 percent completion percentage, as well as 38 completions for 618 yards. Wilson is also first in the Pac-12 and eighth in the country in yards per completion (16.26).
Halliday, on the other hand, is only ranked 34th in passing efficiency, but has a higher completion percentage (68.1) than Wilson as well as 162 (1st) completions for 1901 (1st) yards in just four games. Halliday is also first in the nation with 16 touchdowns thrown with five interceptions conceded compared to Wilson’s 7-0 touchdown/interception mark.
While the Utes seem to rely more on the passing game to move their offense down the field, the offense as a whole is relatively balanced when looking at their national rankings in passing yards (37th) and rushing yards (44th). On the other side, the Cougars have proven that they will throw the ball no matter who is lined up against them. Washington State is ranked first in the country in passing with 496.8 yards per game, but are near the bottom (123th) in rushing yards with only 45.8 yards on the ground.
The Ute receivers are continually led by their one-two punch combination of Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott. Anderson leads the team with 252 receiving yards, 84 yards per game and 19.4 yards per catch. He is also tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions (3) and is second in total receptions (13). Scott leads the team with 14 receptions, is tied with Anderson for touchdown grabs (3) and is right behind Anderson in receiving yards (155) and yards per game (51.7). Running back Bubba Poole is the next leading receiver with six catches for 89 yards.
The Cougars receiving stats sheet is a mile long and includes seven receivers who have 14 receptions or more on the season. Isiah Myers leads the team with 32 receptions for 451 yards and five touchdowns, followed by Vince Mayle with 32 receptions for 320 yards with three touchdowns and Dom Williams with 15 receptions for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Two other Cougar receivers have caught touchdown passes (River Cracraft and Rickey Galvin) and seven other receivers have recorded receptions for Halliday and the Cougar offense.
 
Defense:
 
The Utes’ defense took a big step forward against Michigan last Saturday, allowing only a single field goal by the Wolverine offense while keeping them from entering the red zone for the entire game. While it might be nearly impossible to repeat that feat again against Wazzu, the Utes will be determined to prevent Halliday and his offense from converting red zone trips into touchdowns.
The Utes remain second in the nation in both sacks per game (5.0) and tackles for loss per game (9.7), thanks in large part to the defensive line led by defensive ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. However, last week saw the emergence of the linebacking corps with Jared Norris earning nine tackles and two sacks and Gionni Paul racking up 14 tackles (10 solo), an interception and a fumble recovery on his way to earning the Athlon Sports National Defensive Player of the Week award.
The Utah secondary also had a fantastic outing, particularly from the safeties. Defensive captain Brian Blechen recorded the team’s first interception of the season and included four tackles and three pass breakups against the Wolverines. Fellow safety Tevin Carter also recorded an interception against Michigan and had four tackles (1.5 for loss) as well. The Utes’ three interceptions on the day matched their 2013 season total.
Washington State will rely on its offense to score in bunches to take pressure off of their porous offense. The Cougars are ranked 99 in points allowed per game (31) and 87 in total defense allowing 5.65 yards per play and 420 yards per game. Even with their poor defense, the Cougar defensive line was able to sack Oregon’s Marcus Mariota seven times. Watch out for Xavier Cooper and the rest of the D-line to try and get after Travis Wilson.
 
Special Teams
 
Tom Hackett and the Utah punt team have proven they are one of the best teams in the country in pinning their opponents deep in their own territory. Hackett leads the country in net punting (46.7 yards) and of the Utes’ 15 punts, only three have been returned for a total of four return yards.
Lou Groza award candidate Andy Phillips went 4-for-5 on field goals against Michigan, hitting from 35, 38, 48 and 50 yards with his lone miss coming from 41 yards out.
Kaelin Clay returned another punt 66 yards for a touchdown against Michigan, making it his third return touchdown in as many games. Clay is ranked first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the country with a punt return average of 23.8 yards.
Washington State’s two kickers are a combined 5-for-9 on field goals this season. Quentin Breshears is 3-for-4 and Erik Powell is 2-for-5 with all his misses being from 30 yards or longer.
 
Fun Stats
 
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham will attempt to win game number 80 as the Utes head coach against Washington State.
The Utes lead the all-time series with Wazzu 7-6 with their last win coming in Salt Lake City in 2012 and their last loss coming last year in Pullman, WA.
The Utes will attempt to be 1-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time in their history, they are 0-3 in Pac-12 openers since joining the conference in 2011.
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