Mike Leach has done a nice job with that program. They've improved. —Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, on Washington State
PULLMAN, Wash. — This is it, part one for the Utah Utes.
At 4-6 overall, they’ve got to defeat Washington State here on Saturday and then follow it up with a win over Colorado next week in Salt Lake City in order to become bowl eligible.
One slip and the Utes officially won’t be going bowling for the second consecutive season.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that the “must-win situation” is enhanced by a determination to get the team’s seniors to a bowl game. Team captain Trevor Reilly, thus, considers Saturday’s clash with the Cougars to be the Utes’ biggest outing of the year.
There’s a lot riding on it, obviously.
Then there are the hurdles. The Utes enter the game at Martin Stadium on a four-game skid. They haven’t won a game since upsetting No. 5 Stanford 27-21 on Oct. 12. Along the way, starting quarterback Travis Wilson was lost for the season with a head injury.
Backup Adam Schulz started in last week’s loss at Oregon and will lead Utah against Washington State.
The Utes are seeking their first Pac-12 road win of the season in Pullman. They’re 0-3 away from home, losing at Arizona and USC before falling to the Ducks.
Ironically, Washington State (5-5, 3-4) is still seeking its first Pac-12 victory at home this season. The Cougars lost to Oregon State (52-24) and Arizona State (55-21) in Pullman, plus they fell to Stanford (55-17) in a designated home game in Seattle.
“Something’s got to give,” Whittingham said of the conference victory imbalance between Utah and Washington State.
The Cougars, who are one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2003, are coming off a 24-17 win at Arizona last weekend. They won at USC (10-7) and California (44-22) earlier in the season.
In Mike Leach’s first season at the helm, Washington State went 3-9 overall and 1-8 in Pac-12 play.
Whittingham said the Cougars are much better defensively, more comfortable in Leach’s offense and playing with a lot of confidence now.
“Mike Leach has done a nice job with that program. They've improved,” said Whittingham, who noted that Connor Halliday is a very good quarterback and he wouldn’t be surprised if Washington State throws the ball 50-80 times against the Utes. “That's what they do and who they are, and they are doing a good job of it.”
The Cougars, he added, are also playing good defense.
“They are a much-improved team and we've got our work cut out for us,” Whittingham noted.
Some of Washington State’s players, apparently, are still smarting from last season’s 49-6 loss to Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“I don’t feel like it ruined our season but there is a little chip on our shoulder because of last year,” running back Marcus Mason told the Spokesman-Review. “They’re going to come here and find out what we have waiting for them.”
EXTRA POINTS: Utah leads the all-time series with Washington State by a 7-5 margin. The Utes defeated the Cougars 30-27 in overtime two years ago in Pullman. Halliday leads the Pac-12 in pass completions per game with 34.10. WSU safety Deone Bucannon tops the conference in total tackles (9.6) and solo tackles (6.4) per game.