A week removed from a heartbreaking and controversial officiating game against #2 Oregon resulting in a 38-31 loss at Martin Stadium, WSU mounted an impressive 28-27 comeback victory against the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City. The Cougars got off to a dreadful start down by 21 points after the first quarter highlighted by Connor Halliday throwing a pick six to senior defensive back, Eric Rowe, after his first snap of the game.
The Utes pounded the Cougars during the first half with a 24-7 lead going into half time. Utah’s playing calling was highlighted by their instrumental running game. Junior running back Devontae Booker finished the game with 24 carries, 178 rushing yards, and 1 TD. The running game was the only edge Utah had over the Cougars. Junior QB Travis Wilson completed 18 of his 38 passes for 165 yards.
Whatever Mike Leach told his players in locker room clearly motivated the team coming out of the half. The Cougars outscored the Utes 21-3 in the second half. The recipe for success entailed a stout defense with an effective running attack to open the passing lanes. Halliday led the way for the Cougs completing 39 of his 61 passes for 417 yards resulting in 4 TD’s and 2 INT’s. His two favorite targets were sophomore sensation WR River Cracraft and senior WR Vince Mayle, combining for a total of 246 yards and 2 TD’s. Junior WR Dom Williams accounted for the other two passing touchdowns adding 73 yards to the total number of passing yards. WSU’s ground attack prove to be very effective led by a pair of freshmen running backs in Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow resulting in 104 rushing yards between the two.
After five weeks the Cougars will head into Homecoming Week 2-3 overall and 1-1 in PAC-12 play. While fans may be shaking their head wondering why the Cougars performance against Oregon and Utah were not present during the Rutgers and Nevada game, all signs indicate the Cougars are back on track. Heading into the game Utah was 3-0 highlighted by wins against Fresno State at home 59-27 and an impressive road victory against Michigan 26-10. Undoubtedly, given the events that occurred last year between the two teams, Utah was seeking revenge against the Cougars. To recap last year’s game, WSU heading into their game against Utah last year needed one more win to become bowl eligible. Utah heading into the game needed two wins to become bowl eligible, Utah finished last year with five wins. The rest is history. Not only was WSU victorious against a 3-0 impressive Utah team, the Cougars showed tremendous character and exposure leading them to the victory.
About two weeks, I wrote an article recapping the game against PSU where I stated the Cougars improved in a variety of areas, an established running game to open the passing attack, defensive stops, and a decreased amount of penalties. The Cougars stuck to this formula during the second half to notch their second win of the season. WSU has a long road ahead of them to reach a bowl game but Saturday’s game was a statement. The Cougars could have easily given up after the first quarter. Down by 21 points with the rain coming down hard, the team gathered themselves and shocked the Utah faithful. A win like this should give Cougar fans hope that a bowl game is back in picture if the Cougars can replicate their second half performance toward the rest of their season. It starts next Saturday against CAL in an “Air Raid” offense showdown.
By Matthew Segal