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Wazzu drops third straight, losing to Utes 21-17

Another punch in the gut.

Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Utah Utes put up 21 unanswered and held off the Washington State Cougars for a 21-17 victory in Pullman.

WSU (4-4, 1-4 in Pac-12) offense sputtered and failed to find a rhythm for most of the game. The Cougars got an opportunity to mount a late comeback but Utah (6-2, 4-1) iced the game away, draining the remaining 4:48 of game clock on the final possession.

It’s the Cougars third consecutive loss and fourth in their last five games. The Cougars have yet to put up at least 20 points in those three losses and failed to eclipse 30 since their loss to Oregon in week four.

The Utes received the ball to start the game and instead of their usual starter Cameron Rising taking the field, it was their sophomore backup Bryson Barnes leading the Utes onto the field. Barnes completed his first three passes to lead the Utes into Wazzu territory. The Utes pulled just inside the red zone and could go no further. The Utes field goal attempt from 37 yards out missed wide. Wazzu and Utah punted away the next four possessions before WSU finally got the first points on the board with a Cameron Ward touchdown pass to De’Zhaun Sribling from 29 yards out.

Utah instantly responded, aided by a 31 yard completion on a 3rd and four to put Utah in Wazzu territory. The Utes tied the game four plays later on a six yard touchdown run. The Cougs put together a promising response, getting inside the Utah 35. Ward found a mysteriously open Stribling on the south sideline to put WSU close to the Utah 10. The play was called back for illegal touching as Stribling stepped out first before stepping back in bounds. With WSU in a tough spot on a too close to punt but too far to kick a field goal into the wind scenario, the Cougars failed to convert a fourth and 11. Not to fear for the Cougs as they came up with a three and out and would surely get the ball back. On the punt, two Cougs collided into each other, resulting in the ball ricocheting off the leg of Cougs punt returner Robert Ferrell and into the hands of the Utes. Again, the WSU defense bended, but didn’t break, holding the Utes to a field goal attempt inside the red zone. Before the special teams units could get set, the third down run was reviewed for a potential targeting on Brennan Jackson. After review, targeting was called on Jackson and the Utes received a new set of downs and Jackson was ejected from the game. The Utes, took advantage, scoring on draw play two plays later, taking a 14-7 lead into halftime.

WSU received the second half kick and again drove deep into Utah territory, getting to the Utah 25, but again, couldn’t convert on a fourth down as the screen pass to Robert Farrell fell a yard short. Thankfully for the Cougs, Utah echoed the Cougar drive, failing to convert a fourth and short at the WSU 24. The Cougars failed to get anything going following the turnover on downs, but the Utes would. On a third and 16, Barnes converted over the middle on a connection Jaylen Dixon to the WSU five and scored on a screen pass over the middle on the next play to Dalton Kincaid to take a 21-7 lead.

Right before the third quarter ended, Ward delivered a beautiful touch pass to Tsion Nunnally, who made a just as impressive catch, to put WSU inside the Utah 10. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Ward called his own number, taking it right up the middle and into the east end zone to pull Wazzu back within a touchdown.

The defense again did its job, forcing a Utah punt. The Cougar offense failed to reward them, punting it right back to the Utes. Utah, feeling generous, fumbled the ball inside their own 40.

Wazzu would go no further than the Utah 18. A bubble screen going backwards and a false start pushed Wazzu back to the Utah 25 where Dean Janikowski banked in the 42-yard field goal to make it a 21-17 game.

With just under five minutes remaining in the game and Wazzu having all three timeouts remaining, the Cougs tried to recover the ball on an odd pooch kick that Utah easily recovered inside Cougar territory. The Cougars burned two timeouts and set Utah up in a third and nine situation from the Cougar 43, needing a stop. Barnes found an open Devaughn Vale just ahead of the sticks on a comeback route to get the first down for the Utes. The Cougars again forced Utah into a third and long with under two minutes to go and go the stop they needed this time around. Facing a fourth and seven, Utah elected not to kick a 47-yarder into the breezy west end zone, leaving their offense on the field to go for the win. The Ute offense ran a playaction bootleg rolling out to the right side. Barnes rolled and threw the ball into the hands of Chau Smith-Wade for an interception to give WSU the ball back. But before any Cougar had a chance to celebrate, a tidal wave of yellow flags blanketed the hopes of a miraculous Cougar comeback at the exact spot. Defensive holding on Smith-Wade ripped all hope out of Martin Stadium and gave the Utes the ball, and the victory.

The Cougars had their chances in this game but the offense just couldn’t quite reward the defense for their efforts. Wazzu was presented an opportunity with Utah down their starting quarterback and two running backs and the defense did it’s job. It’s certainly an oddity for the Cougars to be asking for the offense to pick up the slack given the past decade plus of more or less great offenses in the Palouse.

WSU will have a long week to prepare for a trip to play the Stanford Cardinal up next as they try and snap the three game losing streak.