For the fifth time in less than a calendar month the WSU football team is set to do battle on the gridiron as they travel to Salt Lake City to take on a blazing hot Utah team. The highly anticipated 2014 campaign that began on August 28th when the Cougs took on Rutgers in Seattle will be one game shy of the midway point when the final whistle blows at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. The season has flown by in a flash and the expectations of fans have disappeared just as quickly with WSU sitting at a very disappointing 1-3 record heading into Saturday's game.
If the Cougs are to have any chance at turning their season around and reach a second consecutive bowl game, it has to start Saturday with a win over Utah. Deeming games to be ‘must win' games is something that I loathe having to do unless that particular game is truly a "do or die" situation. Mathematically speaking, WSU would still have a chance to become bowl eligible even if they lose to Utah on Saturday. Realistically, asking a 1-4 team to win five of its last seven games, three of which are against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, is a much taller order than one could possibly hope for. The Cougs need to leave Utah sitting at 2-3 if there is to be any simmer of hope to play in the postseason.
Looking on the season just a month ago, many WSU fans marked the Utah game as one that WSU had a strong chance of winning. The Cougs have achieved a level of parity with Utah in the last three years with a loss in overtime at home in 2011, a blowout loss at Utah in 2012, and a win last season at Martin Stadium to become bowl eligible for the first time in ten years. Last year's win is slightly tainted by the fact that Utah was without their starting quarterback, Travis Wilson, who suffered a season ending head injury in the Utes ninth game of the season. Wilson was replaced by an incredibly inefficient Adam Schulz who completed only 21 of 46 passes including two interceptions in last season's game in Pullman.
Wilson is back this season and playing quite effectively with seven touchdown passes against zero interceptions. The Utes are sitting at 3-0 after thumping both Idaho State and Fresno State at home and pulling out a 26-10 win against Michigan in "The Big House" last week. Winning on the road in Ann Arbor this season doesn't have the significance that it would normally have given the storied history of the Michigan program. Still, it is nothing to be scoffed at. Utah is off to a hot start and an energized fan base is likely to show up at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday. The Cougs will be entering extremely hostile territory as 13 point underdogs.
WSU will be carrying some momentum heading into the game after taking Oregon down to the wire last week. In a season that already seemed to be on life support, WSU showed a pulse against Oregon last Saturday after putting together a complete game on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, last week's impressive performance has inspired confidence in a WSU team that demonstrated how competitive they can be when they are on top of their game. On the flip side of that coin, the impressive showing against the No. 2 team in the nation likely reduced the chances that WSU will catch Utah sleeping. The Utes have had a week to look at tape of the Cougs when they are on top of their game and adjust their game plan accordingly.
WSU seems to still be at a point where they are trying to find the right chemistry in terms of personnel on the field, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Both Jeremiah Allison and Sulaiman Hameed played very well last week against Oregon and are tabbed to start this week against Utah. Seeing how close we are to the midpoint this season, it seems imperative that WSU is able to find a lineup on defense that works and carry forward with that lineup. The Cougs have thrown a lot of things against the wall with their defense this season, and frankly speaking, not a lot of it has stuck. Solid and consistent play on the defensive side of the ball is something that fans should be looking for this week.
One of the leadership lessons in Mike Leach's book on the life of Geronimo is "Teams and individuals excel best at what they do most often, rather than constantly changing what they do." For teams coached by Leach, that thing is moving the ball and scoring points with a pass heavy offense in the Air Raid system. That will certainly hold true this week if WSU is to have a chance to win the game. They need to move the ball consistently and put up points. The last time the Cougs visited Utah they didn't do that at all except for a meaningless drive at the end of the game. As Leach pointed out after the 2012 debacle, Utah was basically able to handle the Cougs' offensive line with only two players up front while dropping several back into coverage. The same young WSU offensive line that showed vast improvement last week against Oregon needs to show up this week in Salt Lake City. The offensive line will be the key to victory this week. WSU will need to score often to stay in the game.
My prediction for this week is an offensive heavy game that goes above the 68 point over/under. I feel that it is game WSU is capable of winning, but they are going to have to be at their best to overcome a very good Utah team and hostile surroundings. I am predicting that the Utes come away with a 41-31 victory this week, but I've been known to be wrong a lot when it comes to predicting the outcomes of athletic contests. Being wrong this week will make me feel ever so right.
Cougs at Utah
WSU's improving offensive line gets big test against Utah - Spokesman.com - Sept. 26, 2014
The element of time was added to the Washington State offense against Oregon last week. As in, Connor Halliday had all the time he needed to find his preferred receiver and make the throw.
Utah football: Utes leaning on scrappy corners as Pac-12 play begins | The Salt Lake Tribune
Here’s the bout: Michigan’s 6-foot-5, 230-pound Devin Funchess versus the Utes’ 5-foot-10, 170 pound Dominique Hatfield. Funchess possesses virtually every physical advantage. Hatfield’s edge is mental: He knows from film study that if Funchess breaks ...
Utah football: Scouting Washington State with beat writer Jacob Thorpe | U of U Sports | The Salt Lake Tribune
Through four games, we've seen a lot of variety from Washington State this season. Here's a team that lost a shootout with Rutgers, couldn't score much on Nevada, and then pushed the No. 2 team ...
Pac-12 picks: week five - SportsLink - Spokesman.com - Sept. 26, 2014
While there is no official semifinal preceding the Pac-12 Championship Game, the emerging rivalries in the North and South divisions have effectively served the same purpose. Each year the biggest conference game is the matchup between North rivals Oregon and Stanford and it is all but assumed that the winner ...
Late Goal Lifts Washington State - Washington State University Official Athletic Site
Kourtney Guetlein nets game-winner.
WSU's Defense Solid But No. 1 Stanford Prevails - Washington State University Official Athletic Site
Senior Jaicee Harris joined an exclusive WSU career club with 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs Friday night at Stanford.