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To act like it's "just another opponent" would be against Troy Williams' nature.
It's not another opponent: It's Washington. Ranked No. 4 in the country. Undefeated. And the junior quarterback's former school.
"I told them, 'Give me a year or two, and I'll be back,' " said Williams, with a grin. "I kept my promise."
The challenge for the Utes, however, is how much of a difference one year has made for the Huskies since a rainy 34-23 Utah victory in Seattle last November.
The Pac-12 North leaders so far have lived up to considerable preseason hype, boasting both the top scoring offense and defense in the conference. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning has 26 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions, completing over 68 percent of his passes, boosted by a robust run game led by the Pac-12's top rusher Myles Gaskin (727 yards, 6 touchdowns). They're led by Chris Petersen in his third year, a coach who notoriously often got the better of Utah teams when he coached at Boise State, and whom Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called one of "the elite coaches in the country."
The Huskies have mostly blown out opponents: Whittingham pointed to Washington's first half scoring margin 220-26 as evidence of their dominance this year.
He wouldn't say for sure if the Huskies are the best team to visit Rice-Eccles since the 2014 Oregon team that finished as national runner-up: "But they're certainly up there."
The Utes (7-1, 4-1) are currently in a tie themselves with Colorado for the Pac-12 South lead, and ranked No. 17 as the next-highest team in the league. Still, as of Monday, Washington was a 10-point favorite in Las Vegas. Aside from an overtime win at Arizona, the Huskies have beaten every opponent by 24 or more points.
Last year, Utah recovered three fumbles and picked off a Browning pass on the way to a win. This year, when it comes to stopping the mostly mistake-free Browning, opposing teams have already "tried everything," Whittingham said.
"There's nothing schematically that hasn't been tried in the last seven games," he said. "His O-line protects really well. He's got a strong run game. … They're so balanced on offense, you can't load up for one or the other."
There's also the matter of the Huskies' fast and physical defense, which has racked up 19 takeaways and 25 sacks. The Utes will try to push Washington with a rejuvenated rushing attack after Joe Williams racked up an FBS-best 332 yards on UCLA last week. Petersen called the Utes "our toughest test by far" in his own Monday news conference. The Huskies defense, Troy Williams said this week, is one he's looked forward to facing since he transferred from the program after the 2014 season. The Utes' starting quarterback said he never really caught on with Petersen when he was hired to replace Steve Sarkisian "I wasn't one of his guys" and when he looked for his second school, he hoped to get a chance to play his old team.
"I just thought about getting my chance to play against them, you know, regardless of the school I was at," he said. "I just imagined myself against that defense, against that team, so my dreams are coming true. I'm just blessed to be in this position and I'm looking forward to it."
Adding to the already potent storylines: ESPN's College GameDay show will be posted at President's Circle this weekend, hosting shows on Friday and Saturday morning for the second straight year.
Whittingham said the show is good for exposure for the program, and shouldn't hinder Utah's preparation too much. Troy Williams said he sees it as an opportunity for the Utes to generate more buzz for their one-loss campaign thus far.
"We feel like a lot of people don't give us the credit we deserve," he said. "That's fine. We like being an underdog. It's a mindset that we've got nothing to lose, we gotta go out there and earn that respect."
No. 4 Washington at No. 17 Utah
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1