Leach questions teams toughness in Salt Lake loss

SALT LAKE CITY – The defense wiggled, like a screw without thread, while the offense shook – much like the thunder Salt Lake was forecasted to brave.

The Utah Utes (4-1, 1-1) stomped the Washington State Cougars (3-2, 0-2) in Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday night by a 38-13 margin in front of 46,115 fans.

“You saw a tough football team play a soft football team,” Mike Leach said. “Coaching wise, we failed to get through to them. We let them evolve into a soft team, and they are soft.”

A one score game on Washington State’s own 47-yard line late in the first half, Ron Stone Jr. and Justus Rogers mugged Utah halfback Jordan Wilmore behind the line of scrimmage forcing a turnover-on-downs.

The momentum stood at a stalemate begging for direction. This was Washington State’s chance to flip the script 180 degree and snatch the lead with the ensuing drive’s birth near midfield.

But it was Utah who would heed the call after holding WSU to a field goal.

They had three minutes left in the half and hardly seemed interested in pushing for a touchdown as the Utes would receive the second half kickoff. But nonetheless, Utah stumbled across points by pedestrian efforts.

Remember the threadless screw?

On third and forever, quarterback Tyler Huntley uncorked a 41-yard bomb to Solomon Enis. And just a few snaps later in the same situation, a defensive pass interference kept the drive alive before Huntley ran 15 yards down Wazzus’s throat to score.

“We weren’t even close,” Leach said. “We go out there and play street ball and do our own thing.”

It was just an 8-point deficit, but momentum was lost.

Utah owned the third quarter and extended their lead up to 18. The Cougars saw just one compete series in the quarter – a grand total of four snaps – of which they squandered as Anthony Gordon threw an interception evading pressure.

Wazzu attempted to give the home team a taste of their own medicine pushing the next offensive series to an absurdly long 16 plays. It too fell short, however, as Max Borghi got tripped up on the 2-yard line on a fourth-and-goal gamble.

From defensive timeouts to team huddles, Mike Leach tried it all to get his squad in line. But no matter the efforts, the game felt like a theatre production of the Apple Cup featuring Utah as Washington’s understudy.

“It was missed cues here and there. Mishaps and stuff. We need to piece together a few pieces, get back to pullman tomorrow, shake it all up, and figure it out,” Dallas Hobbs said.

With offensive Utah stars Britain Covey and Zack Moss sidelined, only more questions arise for the Washington State’s secondary. As for the offense, Coug fans can only hope Anthony Gordon’s night to be a fluke. 13 points just won’t cut it in conference play.

“Maybe we think we’re owed something from last year, I don’t know. We need to come together more and be tougher as team. It’s a mindset and something we need to cultivate as a team,” Gordon said.

The quarterback ended his night with 252 yards, one touchdown, and a pair of interceptions – one notably forced in garbage time – on a 61 percent completion rate.

“At some point they have to embrace the effort themselves.” Leach said.

If anyone leaves Utah outside Leach’s doghouse, it’s likely to be Borghi after picking up 121 yards on a combined 17 touches. Gordon and Borghi both acknowledged postgame that checking into a few more runs may have been beneficial.

“Going into this next week, we gotta really focus on executing our job, being ourselves, and bringing great energy. Energy is contagious,” Borghi said.

Despite the final score and shortcomings, Leach acknowledged steps forward in ball security and special teams – two specific places he emphasized after last weeks loss to UCLA.

The loss marks WSU’s first back-to-back losses since 2017 and their first loss to Utah since 2012.

Washington State heads into a much-needed bye week. They don’t see action until Oct. 12 at Arizona State (4-1, 1-1). Official kickoff time is to be determined.

 (Top photo: Jack Ellis – Cougar Sports Network)


Scoring Drives

Q1 4:03 – Utah 7, WSU 0
Huntley drives 76 yards tagging Henry-Cole with an 11-yard short-side swing pass for the ballgame’s first points. (Jadon Redding kick good)

Q1 0:16 – WSU 7, Utah 7
Deon McIntosh catches a 5-yard crossing route between the hashes evening things out. It’s the halfback’s first receiving touchdown as a Cougar. (Blake Mazza kick good)

Q2 14:51 – Utah 14, WSU 7
Two plays for 75 yards finalized the theory of WSU secondary struggles. Samson Nacua finds the house on a 52-ard reception in broken coverage for Huntley second touchdown pass of the night. (Redding kick good).

Q2 12:25 – Utah 14, WSU 10
Cougs march 41-yards into field goal range allowing Mazza to knock down a career long 51-yard field goal attempt.

Q2 3:31 – Utah 14, WSU 13
Mazza holds true from 24-yards narrowing the deficit to just a point after the 10-play drive.

Q2 0:22 – Utah 21, WSU 13
Huntley – assisted by a series saving PI charged to WSU’s secondary – scrambles for 15-yards and a score. (Redding kick good)

Q3 7:20 – Utah 24, WSU 13
Utah marches the half first series all the way to the one yard line. A penalty, pass breakup, and Daniel Isom sack holds the Utes to three on the 28-yard Redding attempt.

Q3 1:28 – Utah 31, WSU 13
Derrick Vickers dashes seven yards off the left tackle for his first score of the night. (Redding kick good)

Q4 1:21 – Utah 38, WSU 13
Huntley takes a read option to himself. One quick cut inside was all it took to find the end zone. (Redding kick good)

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