Washington offensive lineman Nate Kalepo (71) and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) celebrate after a touchdown by wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk (2) during a game against Southern California on Nov. 4 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Washington offensive lineman Nate Kalepo (71) and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) celebrate after a touchdown by wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk (2) during a game against Southern California on Nov. 4 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Next test in No. 5 UW’s stretch run is visit from No. 13 Utah

The two-time defending Pac-12 champion Utes have plenty to play for this week.

SEATTLE — Dillon Johnson has only played a handful of games in the Pac-12 since arriving at Washington. But even while watching from afar, the Huskies running back knew getting to the top of the conference in recent years has meant getting through Utah.

“They know the system. They move well together. They move as one and they’re physical,” Johnson said. “That’s what it’s going to come down to, whoever is the most physical team.”

Johnson and No. 5 Washington (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12, No. 5 CFP) can come close to putting an end to Utah’s run on top of the conference with a win over the 13th-ranked Utes on Saturday.

Utah (7-2, 4-2, No. 18 CFP) already has two conference losses and a third might end any hopes the Utes had of a three-peat, depending on what else happens in the conference this week.

But the Utes also know a win over the Huskies would blow open the race to Las Vegas.

“We’re not worried about the big picture right now,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’re just trying to figure out a way to try to go up to Seattle and play well.”

Facing the Utes is the second step of Washington’s challenging November stretch run. It started with last week’s 52-42 win at Southern California and still to come are a road game at No. 12 Oregon State and the Apple Cup against Washington State.

Washington passed that first test against USC in part because its offense rediscovered the potency that had disappeared for stretches in the previous two games. But unlike earlier in the season, it wasn’t just the arm of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. that carried the load.

Johnson had the fifth-best rushing day in school history, running for 256 yards and four touchdowns. It was a career day and one that showed the Huskies’ offense isn’t one-dimensional.

But it’s one thing to have that kind of success against a struggling group that fired its defensive coordinator a day after the loss to Washington. It’s another to do it again facing a Utah defense that’s the best in the conference.

BRYSON’S BOUNCEBACK

Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes rebounded from a rough outing in a loss to Oregon by throwing a career-high four touchdowns last week against Arizona State. Barnes has been very good for the Utes in two of the past three games, throwing seven touchdowns against just one interception against USC and Arizona State.

But Barnes struggled against Oregon with two interceptions and completed only 52% of his throws. He’ll need to be solid against a Washington defense that’s been susceptible to the pass at times this season. Washington is 121st in the country, giving up 270 yards per game through the air.

HEISMAN PUSH

While Johnson stole the headlines last week, Penix still had a role in the Huskies’ victory. Penix threw for 256 yards — the same amount as Johnson ran for — and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.

Penix can take a big step toward enhancing his Heisman Trophy chances with a big game against Utah and his performance will likely be compared to fellow Heisman candidate Bo Nix of Oregon. Nix threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s romp over the Utes.

CONTROL THE RUSH

Washington’s offensive line has done a good job of keeping Penix safe this season but will face another challenge from Utah’s defensive front, specifically defensive end Jonah Elliss. Elliss is second in the country with 11½ sacks in nine games. He has recorded at least one sack in five of the past six games, with the Oregon game the only time he didn’t get to the quarterback.

Utah is tied for 11th nationally in sacks with 29.

9-0 AGAIN

Washington is 9-0 for only the fourth time in school history but is hoping for a better outcome than the last time it reached the mark. In 2016, the Huskies were 9-0 and ranked No. 4 before losing at home to USC. Washington rebounded to win the conference championship and reached the College Football Playoff, becoming the last Pac-12 team to do so.

Washington also started 9-0 in 1991 when the Huskies went undefeated and shared the national title with Miami. Washington was also 9-0 and No. 1 in the country in 1984 when it lost in Week 10 against USC.

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