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Second Half Power Outage Dooms Utes in 27-28 Loss to WSU

On a rain-soaked evening in Salt Lake City, Utah couldn't hold back the flood of second half Cougars touchdowns.

Despite the rain storm, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday fired pass after pass to lead his Cougars to a 28-27 win over Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Despite the rain storm, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday fired pass after pass to lead his Cougars to a 28-27 win over Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

A crushing defeat. There's no way to sugar coat it. Having a chance to start with a win in Pac-12 play for the first time since joining the conference, Utah suffered an inexplicable offensive power outage in the dreary rain storm, and the defense simply couldn't hold off the torrential flood of Washington State second half touchdown drives. After leading 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, with a touchdown in all three phases of the game, the Utes managed just six points in the remaining three quarters. The Utes drop to 3-1 on the season, 0-1 in Pac-12 play after the 27-28 defeat in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson finished the night 18-of-38 for 165 yards passing and no touchdowns, but the 6-7 junior wasn't helped by his main targets either. Normally sure-handed receiver Kenneth Scott had some critical drops, and speedy Dres Anderson dropped a few, as well, including what could have been the game-winning touchdown. Scott finished with seven catches for 70 yards, and Anderson ended the game without a reception.

Wilson was again throwing in an exaggerated side-arm motion, had no touch on underneath routes, overthrew deep receivers, and seemed to have a tough time reading the defensive ends in the read-option game. On one deep pass, Anderson turned to the inside of the field as if the play were a post route, while Wilson threw the ball to the outside as if it were an out route. Add to this that the offense shot itself in the foot on several occasions with drive-crushing penalties, and you had an offense that, on this night, was in disarray.

The lone bright spots were determined running back Devontae Booker who rushed for 178 yards on 24 carries (7.4 yards per carry) and scored the lone offensive touchdown on a brilliant 76-yard scamper, and punt returner/wide receiver Kaelin Clay who scored on a 58-yard punt return and hauled in five catches for 65 yards receiving.

In the second half of play, Utah managed just three points on a 43-yard Andy Phillips field goal. (Phillips finished 2-for-3 after missing his first 46-yard field goal. Phillips is 5-of-7 this season from 40+ yards and 24-of-29 on field goal attempts over his career, 14-of-18 from 40 yards or more.) Utah's offense had a fumble that led to a Washington State touchdown, as well as two three-and-outs and two possessions ending on a turnover on downs. In fact, it even looked like Utah's high-powered offense was moving in slow motion, rather than the hurry-up offense fans had come to expect from the first three games. Certainly, Utah was trying to bleed the clock, especially in the fourth quarter, but even when Utah had what could have been the final, game-winning possession, there was no sense of urgency. Players took entirely too much time to line up when, under 60-seconds left in the game, Booker was stopped well short of the first down, running precious seconds for a team with no timeouts left to stop the clock.

The Utes defense did it's part, even while they allowed three second half touchdowns. The Ute defense stopped the Cougar offense on their first seven drives and came up with a total of nine tackles for loss and three sacks, as well as forcing two interceptions and recovering a fumble. Utah sacked WSU quarterback Connor Halliday three times (led by defensive end Jason Fanaika's two sacks) and held the Cougars to two turnovers on downs. Linebacker Jared Norris had a nice game with a team-high 12 tackles to go with 2.5 tackles for loss, totaling 15 yards, and a sack as well as a pass breakup. Strong safety Brian Blechen recorded 10 tackles, as well as a tackle for loss. Linebacker Gionni Paul also recorded his second interception in as many weeks.

On the other side of the ball, NCAA passing leader Halliday began to carve up the winded Utah defense in the second half. Halliday finished 39-of-61 passing (63.9%) for 417 yards and four touchdowns, despite throwing two interceptions, one of which Utah cornerback Eric Rowe returned for a pick six. Washington State managed to possess the ball for over eight more minutes than Utah and was markedly more efficient with each possession.

Next up for the Utes is an October 4th road date in Los Angeles with Pac-12 south favorite, no. 11/10 UCLA (4-0, 1-0), a team that just crushed no. 15/12 Arizona State 62-27 in Tempe this past week. Utah will definitely have their work cut out for them containing another dynamic quarterback in the Bruins' Brett Hundley who sports a 72.1% completion percentage and over 10 yards per passing attempt.