I’m just upset we’re going to be under .500 again. Coach (Mike) Leach is a friend of mine. On one side, I’m happy for his program. But I’m way more not happy that we just didn’t win the game. —Utah senior defensive end Trevor Reilly
PULLMAN, Wash. — At the conclusion of Saturday’s 49-37 loss at Martin Stadium, the Utah Utes had to work their way past the postgame celebration that was taking place on the field. Washington State and its fans were celebrating the program’s first season of bowl eligibility since 2003. The win over the Utes proved to be the clincher for the Cougars.
The loss, meanwhile, assured Utah of a second consecutive losing season — something that hasn’t happened in 23 years.
Senior defensive end Trevor Reilly didn’t see a lot of irony in having to walk past Washington State’s jubilation on his way to the locker room.
“To me, it doesn’t matter. I’m just upset we’re going to be under .500 again,” Reilly said. “Coach (Mike) Leach is a friend of mine. On one side, I’m happy for his program. But I’m way more not happy that we just didn’t win the game.”
For the Utes, this one really hurt. It mathematically eliminated them from bowl eligibility while extending their losing skid to five games — the longest the team has endured since 2002. They have an identical 4-7, 1-7 record as Colorado, their season-ending opponent Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The loser finishes in sole possession of last place in the Pac-12 South.
How the Utes wound up in such dire circumstances since upsetting No. 5 Stanford is a mystery to Reilly. They haven’t won since.
“I wish I had the answers,” Reilly said. “But I don’t.”
As for the loss to Washington State, Reilly credited for the Cougars for making plays. The Utes, he added, didn’t.
Things developed quickly. Washington State scored a touchdown on its opening drive and then added a pair of pick-sixes to take a 21-0 lead just over nine minutes into the game. Although Utah managed to pull within a single score on a couple of occasions, the damage proved to be too much to overcome. The Utes never held a lead.
“We let them jump out early on those plays that they made and it’s hard to come back 21-0 to any team,” said junior tight end Jake Murphy. “I don’t care who you’re playing. Hats off to Washington State for making those big plays. We did all we could to battle back, but at the end of the day, obviously, it wasn’t enough.”
Washington State’s passing game proved to be too prolific. Quarterback Connor Halliday completed 39 of 62 throws for 488 yards and four touchdowns. Ten different receivers made catches, eight making two or more grabs.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Cougars’ skill on offense “absolutely throttled” the Utes’ skill on defense.
“Their receivers and their quarterback dominated our pass coverage,” he explained. “That was the real difference in the game.”
Although pleased that his team showed resiliency by coming back, Whittingham emphasized that the Utes still need to win games.
“That’s the bottom line. We’ve got a bunch of high-character, tough kids and we have just got to get better,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us in recruiting at the perimeter. We have been saying it all yearlong — this is where we’ve got to make some ground up.”
Whittingham acknowledged that Washington State found a lot of holes in Utah’s various coverages. He praised Halliday’s play and considers him an NFL guy.
“Coach Leach’s scheme is tough to defend in the throw game,” Whittingham said
Halliday was able to get rid of the ball quickly. So much so, in fact, that Utah finished the game without a sack for the first time this season. The Utes entered the game leading the nation with 36.
Utah also failed to get an interception, leaving the team with just two on the season — fewest in the nation with Kentucky and UTEP.
Reilly thought the Utes probably had three opportunities at Washington State but didn’t come down with them.
“Defensively we just didn’t cover well enough,” he said.
The offense had its woes as well. Whittingham, though, didn’t put all the blame for the costly interceptions on quarterback Adam Schulz. He said the first one was a bad decision, but pointed out that the second was another tipped ball that glanced off the receiver — a recurring problem this season.
Schulz wound up with a career-high 347 yards passing and the Utes racked up 481 yards of total offense.
Even so, it was negated by the turnovers. Whittingham noted that the 37 points scored minus the pick-sixes led to a net total of 23.
“That’s not enough in this league,” he said.
EXTRA POINTS: Wide receiver Dres Anderson topped 100 yards receiving for the sixth time this season. ... Safety Michael Walker and cornerback Justin Thomas led the Utes with seven tackles apiece. ... Linebacker Jason Whittingham and defensive tackle LT Tuipulotu each had two pass breakups. ... Schulz completed a 57-yard pass to Anderson and a 64-yard throw to Murphy to raise the number of plays of 50 yards or greater by the Utes this season to 13. ... The game took three hours and 41 minutes to complete. ... Utah finished with more first downs, 23-22.