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Huard: Keys for No. 10 UW Huskies in Pac-12 title game vs No. 17 Utah

The UW Huskies offense is only better with Hunter Bryant in the mix. (AP)

One more win, and the 10th-ranked UW Huskies can clinch their first Rose Bowl appearance in 18 years. All that stands in front of them are the 17th-ranked Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Championship at 5 p.m. Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Huskies get help on offense with return of Hunter Bryant

The good news for the Huskies, who are coming off their sixth straight Apple Cup victory last Friday, is that they’ve already seen this same Utah team, beating the Utes 21-7 – on the road, no less – on Sept. 15. But the Utes are playing with a different quarterback – dual-threat redshirt freshman Jason Shelley.

With that out of the way, let’s get to ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard’s keys to the game.

The Washington offense gets a boost.

The Apple Cup saw big contributions by tight end Hunter Bryant and left tackle Trey Adams, both of whom missed significant time this year due to injury. And while while the Huskies’ offense itself won’t change at all with the addition of Adams and Bryant, the big play ability of Bryant and the comforting security Adams brings should aid Washington. Utah is a very aggressive man-to-man team that loves to pressure, and its front seven is the best in the conference, causing Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin to go so far as to call it “the only SEC-caliber defense in the Pac-12.” Therefore, the better the player and better the talent, the better opportunity for Washington to execute.

The Huskies still need the run game to set things up.

In the September game in Salt Lake City, the Huskies committed to running the football against the Utes, finding some chunk plays and play-action passes because of it. Myles Gaskin got beat up a bit, though, and this will certainly be the most physical Pac-12 title game we have yet seen played.

How can UW win a defensive struggle?

Handling the quarterback run game will be the single biggest key for Washington. Utah QB Jason Shelley, an explosive talent that put up monster numbers in the state of Texas as a prep star, showed in the second half versus BYU the difference his legs can make both in production and in an opposing defense accounting for him to run.

This week’s key players:

Washington offense: Wide receivers Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones
Washington defense: Cornerback Myles Bryant
Utah offense: Quarterback Jason Shelley
Utah defense: Linebacker Chase Hanson

The story of the game if UW wins will be…

Grit and toughness at the line of scrimmage and Jake Browning playing mistake-free football. Two crucial giveaways in the Apple Cup kept that game tighter than it could have been. Advice for Browning: Play smart, not scared – which is much easier said than done, especially with a Rose Bowl on the line.

Pac-12 Championship preview: No. 10 UW Huskies taking on No. 17 Utah