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The good, bad and ugly of WSU’s win at Utah

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Frustratingly great? Greatly frustrating?

Washington State v Utah Utes Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Good morning. It’s super awesome to wake up and read about WSU’s ninth win in 11 games, isn’t it? I don’t have to tell you that nine regular season wins is pretty rare air around these parts, and it isn’t to be taken for granted. For the third season in a row, WSU has a legitimate shot to win the Pac-12 North and, in turn, the conference title. Another thing I don’t have to tell you is how it’s gone the last two times the Cougs had a shot to win the division.

That doesn’t mean WSU’s win at Utah was all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. Hoo boy, not even close. It was pretty evident within the first five minutes that WSU was clearly the better team. That evidence became proof throughout the afternoon, and yet here we were, clenching our behinds and/or taking valium as Tyler Huntley first scrambled away from pressure for a 32 yard run. Then Troy Williams came in and launched a Hail Mary that, had it been caught, would have meant Utah was a two-point conversion from tying the game. In the end, we were able to exhale and avoid a pulmonary edema.

The Good

  • Congratulations to Luke Falk, who now owns every Pac-12 passing record. You won’t find a tougher, more competitive guy anywhere in America.
  • There are no more adjectives to properly describe Hercules Mata’afa (though we’ll try later in the week). He was in Utah’s backfield more than Zack Moss was, and when he wasn’t it was because Utah’s linemen were holding/tackling/assaulting him.
  • #Speed D did it again, saving an ineffective offense from itself by forcing seven (!!!) turnovers. Who knows how this game ends if they don’t get takeaway after takeaway?
  • Erik Powell better be the first-team All-Conference kicker. Every time the offense stalled, Powell was there to provide points. Well, he came through four of the five times, but some snap/hold buffoonery didn’t help on the one miss.
  • Time of possession is an often overrated stat, but the fact that the offense held the ball for more than 33 minutes really helped on Saturday. A defense predicated on speed might tire a little quicker at that altitude, so getting them some rest is a big deal.
  • The Cougars converted 10-21 third downs, while Utah was held to just 4-12. That’s incredibly important.
  • Great touchdown catch by Dez Patmon. Possessed the ball and got a foot down. Wait, it didn’t count? More on that later. Still, great catch.
  • My throat clenched when Renard Bell limped off, in fear that he was hurt pretty bad. Next thing you know he’s catching a 12 yard pass to set up WSU with a first-and-goal.
  • Six redzone possessions, six scores. Only half were touchdowns, but at least they didn’t end any of those possessions without points.
  • Chima Onyeukwu made an incredibly athletic play on that critical interception. He had to react quickly, then come down with the ball amid a bunch of Utah linemen who were trying to take the ball away.
  • Jalen Thompson was quite the ballhawk Saturday, recovering two fumbles and intercepting the game’s final pass.
  • Hunter Dale, man. His interception was so, so huge.
  • Great hustle by Logan Tago on the penultimate play. He just missed a sack on Huntley, then ran him down about 45 yards later.

The Bad

  • WSU had 16 possessions Saturday. One - ONE - of them covered more than 46 yards.
  • To pull the string a bit more on the above: WSU started three possessions at the Utah 19, Utah 27 and Utah 12. On those three “drives,” the offense ran 12 plays, gained 10 yards and scored six measly points.
  • What I’m saying is WSU should have won this game by at least four touchdowns but didn’t because the offense is on the verge of being broken.
  • Luke Falk threw 69 passes, and WSU gained an average of 4.5 yards on those plays. This against a Utah defense that had several backups at defensive back. Jamal Morrow carried the ball seven times, and WSU gained an average of 4.6 yards of those plays. This offense is at its best when the passing game has a complementary rushing threat, and right now I can think of one word to describe it: inert
  • Can you imagine a scenario in the past when Mike Leach, at his own 28 yard line with 32 seconds and two timeouts, takes a knee? What world are we living in? There is no more glaring referendum on the in-game relationship between coach and quarterback than that one.
  • Only one nit to pick with Alex Grinch and his defense - as soon as WSU got a little breathing room at 33-18, the defense went into “prevent” mode, rushing three or four and playing very soft coverage. Two minutes and six plays later, Utah was in the endzone and it was a one-score game again. Never ever ever get away from what you’re good at, coach.

The Ugly

  • These goddamn officials, man. Dez Patmon caught that ball, like I said earlier. Then, Jahad Woods hits a guy IN BOUNDS, and roughly five seconds later, he is flagged. Oh, and Marcus Strong still hasn’t held that Utah receiver. The only event that occurred more than a Luke Falk pass Saturday was Hercules Mata’afa getting held. But no let’s not call any of that.
  • Erik Powell had no problem booting the ball through the endzone, so of course the one time he doesn’t, Utah runs it back to the WSU 37. Walk home, Mele.

In the final analysis, even though the win was full of warts, it’s still a huge win. In case you didn’t know, winning on the road is hard, even if the opponent stinks and has one of the most overrated coaches in the country. That WSU won nine games in 11 straight weeks of football (thanks, Larry) is remarkable.

Now it’s time to rest, hopefully heal, and get ready to face Purple Goliath. Even though I long ago gave up any hope of WSU ever beating Washington again in my lifetime, I’d be lying if I said they have no chance. How much of a chance they have depends almost entirely upon whether the offense can address its myriad problems. Everything is there for this team. Go get it, men. Go Cougs.

Football

Analysis: Washington State defense earns seven takeaways as Cougars hold off Utah 33-25 ahead of bye week | The Spokesman-Review
Luke Falk and the Washington State offense will lament all of the scoring opportunities they squandered Saturday night.

In his much-anticipated return home, Washington State’s Falk throws three touchdowns to lead Cougars past Utes | The Spokesman-Review
The Cougars improved to 9-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play. They’ll have a chance to snag a berth into the Pac-12 title game when they visit Washington for the Apple Cup two weeks from now.

Difference makers: Hercules Mata’afa’s disruption key for Washington State’s defense in 33-25 win at Utah | The Spokesman-Review
Mata’afa was part of the Cougars’ turnover party, stripping Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley on a play in the first quarter.

Analysis: Washington State defense earns seven takeaways as Cougars hold off Utah 33-25 ahead of bye week | The Spokesman-Review
Luke Falk and the Washington State offense will lament all of the scoring opportunities they squandered Saturday night.

John Blanchette: On Luke Falk’s homecoming, it was Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa that did the home wrecking | The Spokesman-Review
Seven takeaways. Even UCLA’s basketball players didn’t get that greedy at the Hangzhou mall.

WSU vs. Utah (Nov. 11) | The Spokesman-Review
Washington State plays at Utah on Saturday, Nov 11, 2017.

Turnovers prove too much to overcome for Utes in loss to Washington State - The Salt Lake Tribune
The Utes finished with a 367-338 edge in total yards on offense, but the havoc plays that were once the trademark of the Utes defense seemed piled up in favor of Washington State instead.

Wazzu QB Luke Falk breaks Pac-12 record in emotional Utah homecoming - The Salt Lake Tribune
On this night, back home in Utah, in front of an estimated 60 friends and family members in attendance, with his father, Mike, on the sidelines, Falk threw his 116th, 117th and 118th career touchdown passes.

Kragthorpe: Struggles on offensive line cost Utes chance at victory - The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah’s program remains known for experimenting with various ways to end up disappointed in November.

Pac-12: The fiasco with Fox Sports 1, UCLA shoplifting reaction, USC in charge and more All in all, Friday road teams are 0-4 after playing a conference game the previous Saturday. And three of the four Friday road losers were favored.

Power Rankings Week 11 Miami Hurricanes advance, Alabama Crimson Tide survive
Movin' on up.

Soccer

While we were all watching the football team, the soccer team was busy winning an NCAA tournament game, across the country, as a No. 15 seed! How ‘bout that! After year upon year of postseason heartbreak, this is absolutely awesome. The Cougs take on Tennessee next. Hopefully Butch Jones coaches Tennessee soccer as well?

WSUCougars.com | Washington State University Athletics
In one of the gutsiest defensive performances in Washington State history, the Cougs (10-7-3) took down the No. 8 and two-seeded Central Florida Knights (13-2-3), 1-0, Saturday night in the first round of NCAA Championships.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: Spent Friday morning at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with the kids. While I was waiting in line for some dinosaur ride, I spotted people walking around with beers, and recognized that I wasn’t doing Disney right. So even though the Sea Dog Sunfish may not have been, technically, the best beer I had all week, it certainly came at the best time, even at $10. I thought that was a mighty high price for a beer until I paid way more for a Cigar City IPA at the Chris Stapleton concert later that night. Personally, the only thing worse than the prices for alcohol at concerts is the knowledge that there are morons like me willing to pay them.

Beer named in honor of WWII vet - Story | WFLD
97-year-old Jack Lyle is one of the last living Tuskegee airmen -- a unit of elite African-American pilots formed during World War II when blacks were not allowed to fly with whites.

Non-Sports

Promethea Unbound — The Atavist Magazine
A child genius raised in poverty, she wanted to change the world. Then a horrific act of violence nearly destroyed her.