Utah will be another test of Washington State’s progress
WSU (1-3) vs. Utah (3-0)
• Kickoff: 5 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
• Radio: AM 770 KTTH
• Line: Utes by 13.5
What’s at stake: It’s a pivotal game for the Cougs, who could still salvage a 6-6 season with a win. Installing Washington State as a nearly two-touchdown underdog, oddsmakers obviously think a loss is more likely.
But you wonder if they missed the Cougars’ game against Oregon last Saturday. WSU lost 38-31 but went toe-to-toe with the second-ranked team in the country and might have won were it not for a missed pass-interference call in the fourth quarter.
For Utah, it’s a chance to go 4-0. The Utes were impressive last Saturday, winning 26-10 at Michigan.
Why the Cougs might win: If they play the way they did against the Ducks, they’ll have a good chance to win in the fourth quarter and might even be trying to hang on to a lead.
The Cougs have offensive weapons galore with Connor Halliday spreading it out to Isiah Myers, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams and River Cracraft. Keep in mind, too, that the Cougars rushed for 103 yards in a 49-37 win over the Utes last year at Martin Stadium that gave them a bowl-qualifying sixth victory.
Then again, it’s hard to forget what happened the last time the Cougs played at Utah. In 2012, they lost 49-6, and afterward, coach Mike Leach forced all of the offensive linemen to meet with reporters and explain their sorry performance.
It shapes up as an interesting game. Have the Cougars really taken a step in the right direction as Leach thinks they have? Or was the Oregon game an aberration?
You’d think it would give the Cougars confidence. If they can play with the No. 2 team in the country, shouldn’t they be able to play with anyone, including Utah on the road?
Why the Cougs might lose: Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has completed 65 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
He’s mobile, too, but after getting helicoptered at Michigan last week, I’m guessing he’ll be less apt to scramble in this game. Whatever happens, he’s not Marcus Mariota, and the Cougs sacked him seven times. WSU’s pass rush, led by Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan, was one of the most encouraging developments in the Oregon game and will hopefully be a factor this week.
Washington State may or may not punt or kick to Utah’s Kaelin Clay, who has three returns touchdowns in three games, including a punt return against Michigan that he celebrated with a Heisman pose.
Prediction: Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has not as yet measured up through the course of a season. Based on non-conference results thus far, the Utes might change the storyline in 2014. But from what I saw in the Oregon game and the fact that I’m a Coug homer anyway, it looks like WSU has enough firepower on both sides of the ball to pull off an upset. Cougars 41, Utes 27.
Season record against the spread: 3-1
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.