SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said his team’s 33-25 loss to 19th-ranked Washington State was a case of not enough and too much.
While the defense impressed Whittingham by holding the high-powered Cougars and record-setting quarterback Luke Falk to an average of fewer than four yards per play, the Utes turned the ball over on offense seven times with four interceptions and three fumbles.
“I was proud of our defense. I thought our defense was lights out tonight,” Whittingham said while going over the numbers. “But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to overcome (seven) turnovers.”
Whittingham added that “you can’t win doing that.”
As such, Utah’s bid for bowl eligibility remains on hold. The Utes now need a win over Washington next week or a victory over Colorado on Nov. 25 to get it done.
“We’re going to get to a bowl game,” said quarterback Tyler Huntley.
Utah got off to a sluggish start en route to falling to 5-5 overall and 2-5 in Pac-12 play. The Utes turned the ball over on three of their first four drives. Washington State scored after each of the miscues to take a 13-0 lead in a span of just over 11 minutes.
The lopsided action began with Utah receiver Demari Simpkins losing the ball following a 17-yard catch. Safeties Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson teamed up on the takeaway. Taylor forced the fumble and Thompson recovered it near midfield.
The Cougars then marched downfield for a touchdown, capping a nine-play drive with an 11-yard pass from Falk to Tavares Martin Jr.
Kicker Erik Powell, who added the extra point, followed with the two other scores for Washington State in the first quarter — connecting on field goals from 44 and 32 yards out.
Utah turnovers preceded the kicks. Huntley was intercepted by Taylor on the first on the first one. Defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa stripped the ball away from Huntley for the second.
The Utes had just two first downs at quarter’s end and were just 1 of 5 on third-down conversions.
Things improved for Utah in the second quarter — at least early on. Kicker Matt Gay put the Utes on the board with a 56-yard field goal. They scored on their next possession as well. Paced by a 71-yard completion from Huntley and Simpkins and an accompanying facemask penalty on Washington State, Utah wound up reaching the end zone on a 2-yard run by Zack Moss.
After having their lead cut to 13-10, the Cougars responded with a sustained drive consisting of 11 plays and 75 yards. A 1-yard touchdown toss from Falk to Kyle Sweet finished off a possession that took 5:27 off the clock.
Utah trailed 20-10 at halftime after a 45-yard field goal attempt by Gay in the closing seconds was wide right.
Whittingham noted that the defense had their backs against the wall throughout the first half and things could have very easily gotten out of hand.
“But our red-zone defense was tremendous,” he said.
A wild exchange of turnovers came in the third quarter. One play after Utah safety Corrion Ballard picked off a pass by Falk, Washington State nickel back Hunter Dale intercepted Huntley. The Cougars cashed in with a 28-yard field goal from Powell to make it 23-10 with 10:55 to go in the third quarter. He added a 33-yard kick just over four minutes later to extend their lead.
Down by 16, Utah climbed back into contention early in the fourth quarter when Moss scored on a 1-yard run and Huntley teamed with Siale Fakailoatonga for a two-point conversion.
The momentum shift. however, stopped on the Utes’ next possession. Moss fumbled when he was hit by nose tackle Daniel Ekuale and Thompson picked it up to give Washington State the ball on the Utah 14-yard line. The Cougars scored again with 8:23 remaining when Falk fired a 16-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Johnson-Mack.
Trailing 33-18, Utah needed just over two minutes for a response. A 12-yard scoring strike from Huntley to Raelon Singleton and a PAT from Gay proved to be the final points in the game, however.
The Utes were intercepted on their last two drives after Kenric Young ended Washington State’s second-to-last possession with a pick.
Chima Onyeukwu and Thompson had the late takeaways for the Cougars.
“I thought we had contributions on all three sides. We had mistakes on all three sides, too, which I thought we overcame by playing together,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach. “And I thought we were pretty consistent with that. I thought we played consistently extremely hard.”
The Cougars (9-2, 6-2) can win the Pac-12 North title with a win at Washington on Nov. 25.