Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 27, 2018 at 9:31 pm.

Huskies grow offense to reach Pac-12 title game

A snow-covered Apple Cup positioned No. 11-ranked Washington for its second Pac-12 Conference championship in three seasons.

The Huskies (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12) earned the North division bid to Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., leading wire-to-wire in a 28-15 win over Washington State last week.

Washington’s rushing attack produced 258 yards and gave the Huskies an edge against rival Washington State’s pass-heavy Air Raid offense during the heavy snowfall at Martin Stadium.

No. 17-ranked Utah (9-3, 6-3) awaited Friday’s outcome to know its opponent in the championship game, having wrapped up the South division a week earlier with a rout of Colorado, and Arizona State’s loss at Oregon.

“We had some bumps in the road, no doubt,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team is making its first appearance in the title game. “We drop those first two (conference) ballgames of the season, and our backs were against the wall right out of the gate.”

One of those two losses to open the Pac-12 docket came Sept. 15 at home against Washington. The Huskies capitalized on three Utes turnovers in a 21-7 win.

“There’s been steady, slow improvement across the board,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said of his team’s growth since that matchup in September. “We’ve had a good team all long, just like Utah has. (But) I don’t think you get to a championship game staying the same.”

For the Huskies, growth has come in their offensive production — particularly in the past month.

Since a 12-10 loss at Cal on Oct. 27, the Huskies scored 97 points over their final three games. They’re headed to Santa Clara on the best offensive stretch of the 2018 season.

Of no coincidence, running back Myles Gaskin — who rushed for 143 yards and a game-opening touchdown at Utah in September — has delivered his most productive three-game spell of the season. He capped a stretch of three consecutive games of at least 135 yards with 170 and three touchdowns at Washington State.

The return of tight end Hunter Bryant from injury has also bolstered the Washington offense. He made his 2018 debut Nov. 3 at Stanford with one catch for 9 yards, followed by outings of two catches for 55 yards against Oregon State and three receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown at Washington State.

While Washington has undergone changes in the past two months, so has Utah. Both quarterback Tyler Huntley and running Zack Moss were lost to injury earlier this month, but replacements Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne have stepped in effectively.

Shyne rushed for 174 yards in the Nov. 10 win over Oregon, which marked his first start since the opening month of the 2016 season. He has scored three touchdowns combined in Utah’s last two games.

Shelley rushed for a touchdown and passed for another in Utah’s 35-27 comeback win Saturday over rival BYU. He has three passing touchdowns without an interception in the last two appearances.