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The Utes are coming into conference play with a losing record in non-conference play for the first time since 2000. With a new man behind center in Cam Rising and a fresh 0-0 conference record, Utah has a chance to offset early season losses and contend for another Pac-12 South title. This weekend, they host the Washington State Cougars, who are 1-2 themselves. Wazzu’s lone win is over FCS school Portland State, sandwiched between a 23-26 loss against Utah State and a 14-45 blowout loss to USC. Both Utah and Washington State limp into this game with similar records, but Ute Nation has optimism with Rising now fully leading the offense.

WSU strength: Fast start

Honestly, it is difficult to find many positives with Washington State’s season. The press and message boards have not been kind to the Cougars this past week, but if there is a silver lining, it is that they held a 14-0 lead over USC for most of the first half. On their first offensive drive of the game, Washington State marched 89 yards in 12 plays, eating up 6:20 off the clock, only seeing third down twice. While they did not score their second touchdown until halfway through the second quarter, WSU did hold their own against Trojan quarterbacks Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart in the first half. Slovis, to the Utes’ chagrin, carved up Utah’s defense, and Dart was a star in Utah during high school. Even as Dart eventually finished with 391 yards and four touchdowns after coming in for the injured Slovis, the Cougar defense forced two punts and had an interception and fumble in the first half. Utah has notoriously slow starts over the past few seasons, so a quick Washington State strike could put Utah on their heels early. However, their start may depend on the topic of the next section…

WSU question mark: Quarterback

Sophomore Jayden de Laura earned the starting nod for the USC game and racked up 192 of WSU’s 279 total yards in the first three series of the game. After halftime, de Laura came out with a limp and brace on his left leg. Walk-on Victor Gabalis came in, but struggled against the Trojans, resulting in de Laura returning, only to throw an interception after a Gabalis fumble returned for a touchdown. Utah native Cammon Cooper came in late in the 4th quarter, only to throw a pick on a hail mary attempt to the end zone. Regardless of who starts against Utah, Washington State’s quarterback situation does not appear to be at full strength. A healthy de Laura could provide a spark like he did in the first half against USC, but if he is hurt or Cooper/Gabalis starting could point to a long game for the Cougars.

WSU X-factor: Defense

Despite allowing Dart to throw all over the field against them, Washington State held USC to just 48 total rushing yards on 25 attempts, averaging just under 2 yards per carry. Even though the Utah throw game has new life with the beginning of the Cam Rising era this season, the running game is still expected to be a big part of the game plan, as it is part of Utah’s DNA.

The Cougar offense struggling contributed to the defense being gassed in the second half (sound familiar?), but if WSU forces Utah to be one-dimensional, their defense has shown to be opportunistic (2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries against USC). However, if the Utes show new life on offense and are efficient like the final quarter against San Diego State, they too could gas the Cougar defense like the Trojans.

Prediction: Utah 30, WSU 17

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