SALT LAKE CITY – While Utah was putting together its best offensive performance of the season and Reggie Dunn was returning yet another kickoff for a touchdown, the Ute defense quietly produced its best game of the year in a blowout win of Washington State Saturday afternoon.
The Utes came within one second of pitching its second shutout of the season before the Cougars finally scored with ":00" on the clock.
By that time, the Utes were using second- and third-stringers, while the Cougars had strangely put their starting quarterback back in the game, after replacing him in the third quarter, and had also called a timeout with 11 seconds left.
“I wished we could have got the shutout, but, oh well, that’s the way it goes,’’ said Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. “But it was good to see our young guys get some reps. Our players did a good job the whole week and I was pleased with the way they played today.’’
Coach Kyle Whittingham pointed to the late touchdown as one of his only disappointments of the day, as did defensive end Joe Kruger.
“We were pretty disappointed, but that’s OK. We killed them,’’ Kruger said.
The Utes came out with a new defensive package that the Cougars had a hard time figuring out. Whittingham called it a “33 scheme,” which meant the Utes used three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs in a nickel scheme.
All-American candidate Star Lotulelei was in the middle of the line with tackles Joe Kruger and Teny Palepoi out near the ends with Trevor Reilly, Jason Whittingham and V.J. Feheko playing the linebacker positions.
The secondary consisted of Reggie Topps, Moe Lee, Michael Walker (playing in place of injured Ryan Lacy) and safeties Brian Blechen and Eric Rowe.
“We came up with an odd front package that created some issues for their protection,’’ said coach Whittingham. “This was one of those rare weeks where it was pass-first mentality. I thought the scheme (the defensive coaches) came up with was outstanding, but it all boils down to players — it always does — and they executed it very well.’’
Washington State couldn’t figure out the Utes’ defense, much to the chagrin of Wazzou coach Mike Leach.
“Our five couldn’t whip their two,’’ Leach said of his offensive line. “Sometimes they only brought two. Which means, if five of our guys went in an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s just ridiculously inexcusable.’’
Leach was so upset with each of his lines’ play that he made them come out of the locker room and speak to the media.
For the day, the Cougars gained just 255 yards, more than 100 yards under their season average. Up until the final three minutes when WSU drove the length of the field against the Ute backups, WSU's offense had only gained 180 yards.
The six points by the Cougars matched their season low, which they also had the last time they came to the state of Utah in late August and lost to the Cougars of BYU, 30-6.
The Utes' only wish was they could have kept the Cougars scoreless as they did against Northern Colorado in a 41-0 victory earlier this year.