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Washington State blows another lead, falls to Utah, 24-13

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The Cougars couldn’t take advantage of numerous mistakes by the Utes.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 25: Washington State defensive back George Hicks III (18) tackles a receiver during the first half of a PAC 12 conference matchup between the Utah Utes and the Washington State Cougars on September 25, 2021, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT. Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Another week, another come-from-ahead loss for the Washington State Cougars, who fell to the Utah Utes 24-13 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

The Cougs fell to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12, while Utah improved to 2-2 and 1-0.

The collapse wasn’t of the magnitude of previous losses — WSU never held a lead of more than 6 points — but it stings all the same, primarily because it seemed that the game was there for the taking for the Cougars: Utah turned the ball over three times, including twice in the red zone, and also missed a field goal.

But the WSU offense just could not take advantage.

In the first half, the Cougars piled up plenty of yards, outgaining Utah 212-96, but they failed to make the most of it: Three times they entered the red zone, but they only came away with a pair of field goals and were trailing 7-6 at the break.

In the second half, it was more of what we’ve gotten so used to seeing under coach Nick Rolovich: WSU gained just 106 yards on 3.4 yards per play in the second half; the only points came early in the third quarter when a fumble recovery by WSU on the first play of the second half gave the offense the ball at Utah’s 21. Jarrett Guarantano found De’Zhaun Stribling for a 26-yard TD, giving WSU a 13-7 lead.

The numbers are, again, are stark — and ugly:

For a while, it appeared the Cougars might actually survive it all; the WSU defense was leaking yards all over the place, but Utah kept making mistakes. The Utes finally put any notion of hope to bed, though, with an 8-play, 72-yard drive in the 4th quarter that ended with a 20-yard touchdown run — untouched — by TJ Pledger with just under 5 minutes to play.

WSU did have plenty of time for one final shot to reclaim the lead, but Utah turned up the heat on Guarantano to force the Cougars into a 4th-and-8. The result was the final nail: A pick 6 after a miscommunication between Guarantano and Calvin Jackson Jr.

Quick Thoughts

Missed opportunities: At this point, we know WSU will get outplayed in the second half. That means it’s paramount for the team to take advantage in the first half to have any kind of chance. They did not, which meant they were not able to build a lead that would have allowed them to properly accept the copious gifts Utah was willingly sending their way and secure a win in Salt Lake City. If Utah plays that way against anyone else today (except for maybe Arizona), they lose by multiple TDs. Instead, they secure a double-digit win against the Cougars.

Non-Jayden de Laura QB play still stinks: Guarantano was ok at times, making some nice throws on the occasions the offensive line kept him extraordinarily clean. But facing any kind of pressure, he continues to show a propensity to panic, usually resulting in a negative play. Utah racked up eight sacks, including five in the second half; two of his interceptions were absolute killers. For a player with as many starts as he has, it’s so puzzling to watch him struggle to diagnose coverages and continually be confounded by pressure.

Turnovers are nice, but ... : Yes, the defense got a trio of turnovers, which is great, but they were really fortunate to not have given up a bunch more points. Utah had seven fumbles and WSU recovered three with one of those coming at the goal line just before the running back would have scored. In all, the defense gave up 254 yards in the second half at a whopping 6.9 yards per play.

Get well soon, Max: Max Borghi left the game early in the second quarter with an arm injury, and he didn’t return. It looked ugly, to be honest. We’re really going to need him back to help try and keep this sinking ship afloat. Rolovich said after the game that X-rays were negative.

Key Plays

1ST QUARTER

  • 11:25 — A nice opening drive took the Cougs down to the Utah 34 left them facing 4th-and-1. WSU elected for the aggressive call early, going for it ... but the play call was a curious one: Rather than give the ball to one of the running backs, backup wide receiver Lincoln Victor went in motion, stopped and went under center, and then tried to sneak it. He couldn’t. Turnover on downs.
  • 8:53 — A blitzed forced Utah quarterback Cam Rising into a quick throw to the flat, which MIKE Justus Rogers read perfectly to break up with a strong hand, ending the Utes’ first drive with a punt.
  • 2:48 — The Cougs went on another nice drive on their second possession that was jumpstarted by a 16-yard completion from Guarantano to De’Zhaun Stribling and an 18-yard run from Borghi. It traveled all the way down to the Utah 19 before Guarantano threw into triple coverage on a slant and the ball was picked off.

2ND QUARTER

  • 14:53 — Borghi picks up 3 yards on a second down carry, but lands awkwardly and comes up with a limp left arm. He doesn’t return.
  • 10:34 — Third drive, another long march. A 12-yard pass from Guarantano to Victor took WSU into the red zone for the second time, but the drive was again sabotaged by another negative play when Guarantano took a 14-yard sack on 1st down. A couple of conservative play calls — first, a swing pass to a running back, then a wide receiver screen — left Dean Janikowski to attempt a 39-yard field goal, which he converted. WSU 3, Utah 0.
  • 8:54 — The defense continues to ... dominate? A 3-and-out is capped by a Ron Stone Jr. sack, his first of the year. WSU has outgained Utah 128-31, with the Utes picking up just 2.4 yards per play.
  • 7:10 — For the first time, WSU’s offense really stalls out. Facing 3rd-and-11 from midfield, Rolovich elects to play conservative and call a draw, leading to a punt into the end zone. He clearly thinks they’ve got Utah’s offense bottled up. That was a ... miscalculation.
  • 4:14 — It takes the Utah just six plays to cover 80 yards and get in the end zone, with the key play being a 31-yard keeper from Rising that had 15 yards tacked on for a face mask penalty. WSU 3, Utah 7.
  • 0:00 — Once again, WSU goes on a long drive! The offensive line gives Guarantano plenty of time, and he comes up with passes of 14 (to Travell Harris), 14 (to Joey Hobert), and 22 (to Stribling). Facing 4th and 1 from Utah’s 16, WSU converted a sneak with Guarantano. Three plays later, WSU is facing 3rd-and-7 with 8 seconds to play in the half. Instead of taking a shot at the end zone, McIntosh ran off the right side and nearly ran out the clock without gaining a first down. The Cougs barely got their timeout, and with 1 second remaining, Janikowski hit a 20-yard field goal. Despite outgaining Utah 212-96, WSU trails heading into the break. WSU 6, Utah 7.

3RD QUARTER

  • 14:55 — Stone continues to have a huge game! He levels Micah Bernard in the backfield on the first play of the second half and forces a fumble, which is recovered by Christian Mejia to give WSU tremendous field position at the Utah 21.
  • 13:40 — A holding penalty on first down is only a minor setback as Guarantano — facing 2nd and 15 — finds Stribling on a slick double move to split the safeties for a 22-yard TD. WSU 13, Utah 7.
  • 12:00 — Rising finds his tight end for a 13-yard gain in the middle of the field, but the ball pops out and it appears WSU has secured its second consecutive turnover. BUT WAIT. The runner is ruled down before the fumble and a review is quickly initiated. After an interminable amount of time — and obvious evidence that the ball was out before he was down — Pac-12 refs let the play stand. Seven plays later, WSU’s defense gets a third down stop to force Utah into a field goal attempt, which is converted. WSU 13, Utah 10.
  • 6:28 — Guarantano throws his second interception, but it’s hard to fault him for this one: Utah’s defensive end, Devin Lloyd, reads the screen and pops the ball in the air with one hand and then catches it while falling down. Can’t even be mad.
  • 5:45 — Didn’t take long for Utah to repay the favor! The Utes tried to get tricky with a mobile quarterback, but he didn’t follow the No. 1 rule of securing the ball. Travion Brown stripped it at the end of a long run and Jaylen Watson recovered it at WSU’s 8-yard-line.
  • 1:00 — After a WSU punt and big return from Britain Covey gave Utah great field position around midfield, Utah again went on the move. The Utes drove all the way down to the WSU 8, but on 1st and goal, Stone beat the left tackle to hit Rising as he threw, and the ball sailed harmlessly out of bounds. A fumbled snap resulted in a loss on 2nd down, Willie Taylor took his turn with the struggling Utah left tackle, whipping him on an inside move to again hit Rising as he threw. The ball sailed out of bounds, Utah settled for a short field goal attempt ... but it was wide left. Some might call that justice for the blown replay two drives earlier.

4TH QUARTER

  • 14:55 — Stone continues to have a huge game! He levels Micah Bernard in the backfield on the first play of the second half and forces a fumble, which is recovered by Christian Mejia to give WSU tremendous field position at the Utah 21.
  • 11:57 — Utah RB TJ Pledger breaks loose for a 59-yard run to the WSU 15 — the first explosive of the day given up by the Cougars. A few plays later, on 1st and goal from the 1, Utah’s Chris Curry carried the ball up into the middle where he was met by Daniel Isom whose shoulder dislodged the ball. Brown recovered in the end zone, and the Cougs escape again.
  • 4:43 — After a 3-and-out for the WSU offense — its third consecutive punt — Utah drove 72 yards on 8 plays to finally regain the lead, as Pledger cruised into the end zone untouched from 20 yards out. WSU 13, Utah 17.
  • 2:19 — Facing a desperation play on 4th-and-8 from their own 41 to keep the game alive, Guarantano and Calvin Jackson Jr. were not on the same page: Jackson took off deep after an inside move, but Guarantano expected him to break off the route, and the ensuing pass landed right in the hands of Clark Phillips, who took it all the way to the house. WSU 13, Utah 24.

Did You See That?!?

This was a good play, so let’s go with this.

He Said What?

One Stat To Tell The Tale

6.9 — The yards per play advantage by Utah in the fourth quarter on their way to a come-from-behind victory over the Cougars. The Utes racked up 9.2 on their way to 147 total yards, while WSU mustered only 2.3 to gain 42 yards with the game on the line.

Game Stats

StatBroadcast