Utah survives turnover fest in come back win over the Cougs

Washington State’s (1-3, 0-2) offense was unable to capitalize on three turnovers that its defense forced as the Utes (2-2, 1-0) overcame a three-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 24-13 at home. The Cougs also lost star running back Max Borghi in the first half due to an injury that occurred on an awkward tackle.

Borghi went out early in the second quarter during an awkward tackle in which his hand appeared to go under the defender and it bent awkwardly. The offense moved into plus territory again, despite the injury to its star tailback, but settled for a 39-yard field goal for Dean Janikowski (no relation to SeaBass, just to be clear).

The field goal came after a drive that moved down the field in fits and starts. And included a big 14-yard sack of Guarantano when Utah brought extra pass rushers that the offensive line couldn’t pick up. It was this sack that put the Cougs in a position where they needed to punt.

In the end, the Cougs lead was short lived as the Utes marched 80 yards down the field on six plays to punch it in on a Ja’Quinden Jackson option keeper. Jackson’s touchdown capped after starting quarterback Rising ripped off a 31-yard run that received an extra 15 on a face mask penalty at the end of the play.

Janikowski nailed his 20-yard attempt at the buzzer to get within one at the half. But that drive was handicapped by piss poor clock management from the staff and a questionable challenge on a ball spot; although I can understand Rolo’s frustration their, poor spots have cost the Cougs a couple of first downs and extended drives.

On the opening Utah possession of the second half, the ball popped out in the backfield and Washington State was quick to recover it.

Three plays later and the Guarantano hit De’Zhaun Stribling for a 26-yard touchdown on a crisp pass that hit the true freshmen with absolutely no one around him. Stribling then easily jogged the rest of the way into the end zone. That score gave the Cougars a 13-7 lead after the PAT.

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It was a scary start on the next drive for the Utes as they marched right down the field. Rising hit passes for 12-yard and 14-yard gains while the running backs churned up yards on the ground and the defense struggled to get in position to stop the offensive attack. That is until Utah missed a couple of masses on second and third and long that forced them to settle for a 28-yard field goal to cut the Cougs lead down to three.

Within the next three plays, in a sequence that was befitting of #Pac12AfterDark, there was an athletic interception by Utah’s Devin Lloyd and then a strip fumble on a Jackson six yard carry.

Unfortunately the Cougs were unable to capitalize as they punted it after a three and out. The punt was followed up by a long Utah drive that chewed up 30 yards eight plays; but ended with a missed 30-yard field goal attempt to keep WSU in the lead at 13-10. It was another clutch stand by a defensive unit that has repeatedly collapsed in the second half of games over the last two seasons.

An in effective Cougar drive on the turnover led a Utah drive on the back of running back TJ Pledger. Pledger carries the ball twice for a total of 65 yards, including a 59-yarder. But a pair of Chris Curry runs ended with a fumble at the goal line that Washington State recovered…it was WSU’s third fumble recovery of the game.

Yet again, the Cougs were unable to pick up a first down…aided by a horrific spotting Pac-12 refs. As the offense went three-and-out.

The offense’s inability to score on the defensive turnovers finally came back to hurt the team when Utah scored on a 20-yard run up the gut by Pledger. His touchdown capped an eight play drive that chewed up a bunch of time on the clock. Rising’s passing continues to be a concern which led to the Utes heavily relying on the rushing attack on the go ahead drive.

Corner Clark Phillips jumped in between a miscommunication between Guarantano and his wideout. The corner then took it 45-yards to the house to seal Utah’s come from behind, 24-13, victory over the Cougs.

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Rolo’s tendency to get too cute was on full display at the end of his squad’s first drive. On fourth and one, the Cougs put Victor Lincoln in motion which led to him lining up under center. The 180 pound wideout was unable to pick-up the first down behind the left guard after a questionable spot. Going for it in that situation, big under dogs with the first possession on the road and in plus territory, is fine but that play call was too big brained for it to have a chance at success.

That fourth down sequence came off of what was a promising opening drive for Washington State. Guarantano got the start and marched the Cougs right down the field into Utes’ territory. That’s despite getting sacked and losing six yards on second and four at the WSU 45.

On the ensuing defensive drive, Washington State kept Utah’s routes in front of them and forces them to keep to the underneath routes. This allows the front seven to pin back its ears and get after the rushing attack as they stopped the Utes on one of their two rushing attempts on the first drive. Whittingham was forced to punt despite getting the defensive stop.

Guarantano started off the Cougar drive looking good. He scrambled twice for for a total of two yards and a first down, with a couple of quick reads to move the Cougs into the red zone. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the linebacker sitting underneath the in-route in the middle which led to a pick by Karene Reid.

The defense allowed only one first down on the ensuing Utah drive as it prevented any damage off fo the turnover.

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Post game thoughts

  • TJ Pledger dominated the second half as he averaged 11.7 yards per carry, including a long 59-yard run that put the Utes in the red zone in the fourth quarter. The junior recorded his first career 100+ yard game.
  • Borghi averaged seven yards per carry before he was hurt, the running game struggled to find explosiveness after he left the game due to his injury. McIntosh filled in admirably as he averaged 4.5 yards per attempt, despite the offensive line struggling to open up holes for him at times.
  • Of Guarantano’s three picks the first one was his only bad decision, the second one was a poor play call combined with an athletic play by the defensive end, and the third (and most harmful one) was a miscommunication with the wideout on the route. That being said, he cannot be the Cougs starting quarterback for too many more games or this season is going to get even more bleak.
  • After getting absolutely shredded against USC, WSU’s defense absolutely stepped up on Saturday afternoon. The Cougars forced three fumbles and limited the Utah offense to 6.3 yards per play.
  • The offense’s failure to score more than a touchdown on three fumbles was the reason the Cougars lost this game.

Next up for the Cougars is a 2:30 kick at Cal on the Pac-12 Network. You have a week to prepare yourselves for the next round of Cal bullshit.

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Photo Credit: University of Utah Athletics department.

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