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WSU vs. Utah: Cougs strike late to beat Utes, 28-24

An 89-yard touchdown by Easop Winston Jr. provided the final margin as WSU moved to 4-1 on the season.

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gardner Minshew II found Easop Winston Jr. for an 89-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner as the Washington State Cougars picked up a dramatic 28-24 victory over the Utah Utes.

The Cougs picked up their first Pac-12 win of the season and moved to 4-1 overall (1-1 Pac-12), while Utah dropped to 2-2 and 0-2.

Minshew threw for 445 yards on 31-of-56 passing with four total touchdowns and one interception. Winston and Dezmon Patmon each topped 100 yards receiving, and each had a touchdown; Kyle Sweet gained just 59 yards, but most of his six catches were clutch and at critical times.

But it was Winston who would make the biggest play.

After a strong first half, the WSU offense struggled mightily in the second half, gaining just 72 yards on its first four drives. Utah didn’t fare much better, but they at least were able to muster a field goal on their first drive after the break to take a 24-21 lead deep into the fourth quarter.

Utah had the ball with 8:26 remaining in the game, looking to bleed as much clock as possible. They picked up one first down, but no more, and elected to punt from midfield and pin WSU deep. That they did, as Sweet fair caught the ball at his own seven.

The Utes successfully brought pressure on the first play — as they had so often in the second half — forcing Minshew into a throw away. But on the second play, Minshew identified Winston in a one-on-one matchup, and he dropped an absolute dime away from the defender and toward the sideline, right into the bucket of Winston’s arms.

Winston did the rest.

With WSU now leading 28-24, Utah had one more chance to try and win the game. The Utes moved the ball a little, as they still tried to balance effective runs with an ineffective passing game, eventually pushing from their own 31 with 4:14 to go down to the WSU 36 with under two minutes to go, facing 3rd-and-3. That’s where it all fell apart for Utah.

Zack Moss — who finished with 106 yards but needed 30 carries to get there — was dropped by Logan Tago for a loss of two. Facing 4th-and-5, a false start made it 4th-and-10. On the next play, a blatant hold negated a 36-yard catch and run, and suddenly it was 4th-and-20.

Under a bit of pressure on the next dropback, Utah QB Tyler Huntley skipped his throw short, and the game was over.

The contrast of the second half to the first was absolutely stunning.

The first half was a total shootout, and in the weirdest possible way: WSU passed the ball 37 times and ran it three, while Utah passed the ball five times and ran it 30. The two teams showed there’s more than one way to get where you want to go, piling up more than 500 yards between them — including 286 yards through the air for WSU and 154 on the ground for Utah — and heading to the locker room tied 21-21.

The biggest play for WSU was this 65-yard house call from Minshew to Patmon.

Despite having tremendous difficulty stopping Utah’s running game for most of the half, the Cougars forced a punt by the Utes with just over two minutes to go, giving the Cougs a chance to take a lead before the break. WSU moved the ball a bit, but missed massive opportunities to get into field goal range when Jamire Calvin, Travell Harris and Patmon each dropped passes on the drive.

The second half couldn’t have been more different. Utah got the ball first and was able to drive into WSU territory before settling for 41-yard field goal; the Cougs responded on the next drive by moving to the Utah 35 before settling for a field goal attempt of their own. But in a very #SpecialForces moment, the Cougs had their field goal attempt blocked for the second consecutive time, and Utah retained its 24-21 lead.

Seven consecutive punts followed as each offense struggled mightily. The Cougs were plagued by more drops, and Utah brought blitzes more frequently — both seemed to affect Minshew’s willingness to throw the ball decisively. Utah had lost its starting center to injury, and Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor seemed to run out of ideas.

That’s when Winston did his thing, the WSU defense did its thing, and the Cougars had their 10th consecutive victory at Martin Stadium.