Mind of Mike: Scattershooting the Pac-12 title game
... Jake Browning had a productive season, totaling 2,692 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he never became the Heisman candidate some envisioned. However, Browning gives the Huskies a senior leader who has shown plenty of poise in big game situations during his time in Seattle. He was a former four-star out of high school and Rivals100 prospect who broke the national record for touchdowns in a career, which included 91 as a senior. That’s not a misprint. USC and UCLA passed on him for Ricky Town and Josh Rosen respectively and Washington has been the beneficiary.
... Despite losing starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to a broken collarbone, Utah has responded behind the play of redshirt freshman Jason Shelley. Shelley hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games, while passing for 624 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 112 yards and three touchdowns. He was a top 20 dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school and a mid-range three-star out of Texas while Huntley was a three-star out of Florida. Utah has done a nice job recruiting quarterbacks out of state.
... The Utes also lost their lead running back, Zack Moss, for the season after he suffered a knee injury during a practice earlier this month. Moss, who had already rushed for 1,092 yards at the time of his injury, has been replaced by Armand Shyne, who rushed for two huge touchdowns in the fourth quarter during Utah’s win over BYU this weekend. Moss was a nice get out of Florida for Utah while Shyne was a late JUCO pickup for Utah out of California who wasn’t ranked and was under the radar despite putting up good numbers in high school and beyond.
... Myles Gaskin continues to be the main threat out of the backfield for the Huskies, with 1,076 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, but don’t disregard Salvon Ahmed to make an impact in this game. Ahmed, who has rushed for 576 yards and seven touchdowns, has game-breaking potential and could burst onto the national scene in 2019. Gaskin was a high three-star out of high school while Ahmed was a highly-regarded four-star athlete and a huge get for Washington in the 2017 class.
... While the Huskies don’t have a John Ross or Dante Pettis at receiver this season, Aaron Fuller has become Browning’s most reliable target with 49 receptions for 754 yards and four touchdowns. Ty Jones has also proven to have big-play potential while being the team leader in both touchdown receptions (6) and yards per reception (16.8). Fuller was a skinny two-star out of high school in Texas with little interest overall while Jones had some nice offers out of high school and chose Washington over Utah and others. The Huskies do a great job of developing wide receivers who aren’t ranked as high as they should have been.
... The Utes’ defense is led by linebacker Chase Hansen, who has quietly put together one of the more productive seasons in the country with 88 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two interceptions. Hansen was a four-star athlete out of high school way back in 2012. He played two games at quarterback for Utah back in 2015.
... Utah’s secondary is led by Jaylon Johnson, who has become one of the top overall defensive backs in the Pac-12. With 39 tackles and four interceptions, he will be counted on throughout the game to try and neutralize Washington’s pass attack. Johnson is one of the highest-ranked recruits in recent memory for Utah as he was ranked No. 64 nationally and No. 6 at cornerback in 2017. He had offers from major programs like USC, Tennessee, Michigan, Florida and others.
... One of the most underrated defensive players in the country plays for the Huskies. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has put together a monstrous season, with a FBS-leading 155 tackles, to go along with four tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and a sack. He was an undersized three-star back in 2015 out of California.
... The Huskies also possess one of the top secondaries in the country, led by Byron Murphy and Taylor Rapp. Look for the Washington secondary to try and play mind games with the young Utah quarterback. Murphy was the big recruit of the duo ranked as the No. 40 player in the country back in 2016 and No. 4 at cornerback. He plays much bigger than his size.
... Washington beat Utah 21-7 in the conference opener for both teams this year. Utah only totaled 261 yards of total offense in the game.
... Utah is 1-11 all-time against Washington, with its only win coming in Seattle in 2015.
... Utah has won seven of its last eight games.
... Prediction time: Washington 27, Utah 13