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WSU blows 4th quarter lead, loses to Utah State, 26-23

This was not the start anyone was looking for.

WSU Football versus Utah State - Travell Harris Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars started the 2021 season in the worst way imaginable, coughing up a 12-point lead in the final 12 minutes to lose to the Utah State Aggies, 26-23. Utah State scored the go-ahead touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining when Logan Bonner found Deven Thompkins in the end zone with a 7-yard pass.

The result continued what has been a tumultuous couple of months for the WSU program, which has had to deal with questions swirling around Nick Rolovich’s anti-vaccination stance and the uncertainty of who would start at quarterback.

As it turned out, Jarrett Guarantano took the first snaps, but didn’t last long — at the end of his fourth drive, he suffered what appeared to be an injury while taking a sack for a safety that knocked him out for the rest of the game and made way for Jayden de Laura to assume the reins once again. He was better, but the offense was still plagued by inconsistency and generally lacking in explosives — save for one awesome 64-yard TD run by Max Borghi.

Even with that one run, WSU managed just a meager 5.8 yards per play, as the receivers seemed to struggle to get separation and the line struggled mightily to block.

The defense, meanwhile, was pretty good ... until it fell apart in the fourth quarter, continuing a trend we saw in the Covid-shortened 2020 season. The Cougars gave up 439 yards overall, with 148 of them coming on the final two drives, as pressure on the quarterback was practically nil.

The Cougars will now try to regroup before hosting Portland State next weekend at Martin Stadium.

Quick Thoughts

More QB questions than answers: Guarantano looked less than impressive in his limited action, going 8-of-13 for 56 yards. De Laura didn’t actually fare all that much better as a passer (12-of-22 for 150 yards), but the offense clearly moved better with him at the helm — aided to no small degree by him contributing 42 yards on the ground. Does this mean de Laura is the starter going forward? We don’t know the extent of Guarantano’s injury, and we don’t know how committed Rolovich is to his decision to start Guarantano. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s — and maybe even Rolovich’s.

What the hell was that goal line package?? With 14 minutes remaining in the game, de Laura scrambled for 10 yards to bring up first and goal from Utah State’s 2-yard-line. Immediately following the play, he jogged off the field and third string quarterback Cammon Cooper jogged on — along with all three running backs. Lined up in a full house backfield, Cooper handed the ball off to Max Borghi twice, losing four yards in the process. De Laura came back on for third down, misfired on his pass, and the Cougs settled for a field goal instead of what seemed like a sure touchdown. Those four points sure would have come in handy!

The offensive line is a major concern: There was every reason to believe the Cougs would be able to bully Utah State’s defense up front. Outside of Borghi’s 64-yard TD run, he and Deon McIntosh amassed just 24 yards on 14 carries. There was very little room to run, and the quarterbacks were under pressure far more than they should have been. The Aggies only tallied two sacks, but the QBs were rarely comfortable. That’s an extremely concerning development, because the offensive line was supposed to be one of the things we could count on, given their experience across the board. And they were a total mess.

The pass rush goes MIA: We heard a lot leading up to this season about how defensive ends Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. were set to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. It never materialized, as the Cougars compiled exactly zero sacks on 36 dropbacks. Utah State’s quarterbacks were largely unbothered by WSU’s line, something that might not be a good sign going forward.

Key Moments

1st Quarter

6:48 — Andrew Peasley finds Deven Thompkins for 45 yards to the WSU 1-yard-line, but consecutive false start penalties made it 1st and goal from the 11. The Aggies would settle for a field goal. Utah State 3, WSU 0.

3:54 — Jarrett Guarantano finds Calvin Jackson Jr., who makes a spectacular one-handed catch for 19 yards. Later in the drive, Jackson makes a catch for 16 yards.

2nd Quarter

14:57 — The drive ends with Dean Janikowski hitting a 35-yard field goal to tie the game. Utah State 3, WSU 3.

11:08 — Following a Utah State punt that pinned WSU at its own 1, Guarantano dances in his own end zone in an attempt to buy time. He eventually is sacked in the end zone for a safety, his last action of the game after what appeared to be an injury. Utah State 5, WSU 3.

9:43 — Utah State’s next drive gets off to a promising start, but Justus Rogers forces Peasley to fumble on a scramble and the loose ball is recovered by Andrew Edson at the WSU 44.

4:17 — De Laura comes on in relief and leads WSU down to the USU 14, but Janikowski misses the 31-yard attempt when he hits the upright.

2:22 — Another turnover for USU, as Derrick Langford intercepts a wayward pass from Logan Bonner. He returns it to the USU 28-yard-line.

0:54 — WSU can’t get in the end zone with the short field, but they do at least get points, as Janikowski hits his second FG, from 26 yards. WSU 6, Utah State 5.

Third Quarter

11:40 — Utah State takes the ball to WSU’s 22 on the opening drive, and Connor Coles hits from 39 to give the Aggies the lead again. Utah State 8, WSU 6.

10:47 — Max Borghi, who had been more or less bottled up, finally breaks loose for a Max Borghi thing, turning the corner and outrunning the defense for a 64-yard touchdown. WSU 13, Utah State 8.

7:23 — Utah State puts together another long drive, but once again settles for a field goal. WSU 13, Utah State 11.

4:01 — Set up by a 20-yard Deon McIntosh screen pass — plus 15 more yards on a late hit — de Laura fires a bullet to Donovan Ollie on 3rd and goal from the USU 12. Ollie bullies his way into the end zone by running over some poor DB. Heck of a way to score your first TD. WSU 20, Utah State 11.

Fourth Quarter

12:11 — WSU drives to the Utah State 2, aided by a questionable defensive pass interference that negated a USU interception in the end zone. Inexplicably, de Laura was pulled from the game as WSU went to an unusual jumbo package featuring Cammon Cooper, Borghi, McIntosh, and Nakia Watson. Borghi’s first carry is a 3-yard loss; his second carry is a 1-yard loss. De Laura returned for 3rd down, only to suffer a delay of game penalty. His 3rd-and-goal pass from the 11 was incomplete, and the Cougs settled for Janikowski’s third field goal. WSU 23, Utah State 11.

5:25 — Calvin Tyler Jr. capped a 14-play, 70-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to bring the Aggies to within five points. WSU 23, Utah State 18.

3:32 — WSU goes 3-and-out to give the ball back to Utah State.

0:11 — Bonner finds Thompkins for a 7-yard touchdown that caps a 10-play, 78-yard drive. The Aggies tack on a 2-pointer for good measure. Utah State 26, WSU 23.

0:00 — WSU tries a series of laterals to extend the game, which predictably ends in a fumble recovery for Utah State.

Did You See That??

One Stat To Tell The Tale

12 - First downs by Utah State in the fourth quarter, after achieving only 16 through the first three quarters, on their way to scoring 15 unanswered points that would win them the game.