Cougs hit the road

WSU football heads to Utah for first road game of 2021



WSU defensive back Daniel Isom (3) leads his team onto the field before a game against USC Sept. 18 in Pullman.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen sports editor

WSU heads east for an 11:30 a.m. game Saturday to play its first away game of the season at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.

WSU and Utah are both coming off losses in their week three matchups with matching 1-2 records for the season.

Utah’s loss came in heartbreaking fashion in a game against San Diego State that the Utes were projected to win. The Utes lost in triple overtime because of a two-point conversion being overturned. The final score against the Aztecs was 33-31.

On the other side, WSU blew a 14-0 lead against USC last weekend, marking the fourth time the Cougs have lost a game after leading by over 10 points in the Nick Rolovich coaching era.

The previous meeting between WSU and Utah took place during last year’s adjusted season. Similar to last week’s blown lead against USC, Utah was able to come back from a 14-point deficit of their own, beating the Cougs 45-28.

WSU defensive back Derrick Langford Jr. sits on the sideline during a game against USC Sept. 18 in Pullman.

“That was something we talked about all offseason,” Rolovich said. “It’ll be good to get a chance to get back down there and kind of flush that from the memory banks.” 

WSU has a mere 11.6 percent chance of winning on Saturday, according to ESPN’s Power Football Index. Underdogs two games in a row, the Cougs will have the added challenge of playing away from the rolling hills of the Palouse for the first time this season. 

WSU starting quarterback Jayden de Laura is questionable for the Utah matchup after an injury late in the second quarter against USC. A brace was seen on de Laura’s right leg as he came onto the field after the half. De Laura has been a good asset for the Cougars so far this season, throwing for six touchdowns and 575 yards. 

“I think it will be close. It’s day-to-day right now,” Rolovich said about de Laura’s health.

If de Laura can not play on Saturday, the quarterback job will go to Jarrett Guarantano, Victor Gabalis or Cammon Cooper. Guarantano has not played since a week one injury against Utah State. Gabalis and Cooper both played in the loss against USC. Gabalis struggled to find yards against USC, throwing 6-10 and tallying a total of 19 yards. Cooper fared a little better, throwing 4-5 and gaining 44 yards. 

WSU will need to find success running the football better than in the first three outings. With running backs Max Borghi, Deon McIntosh and Nakia Watson at their disposal, the Cougs should be able to gain yards against the Utes. 

WSU center Brian Greene is expected to return to the offensive line this weekend. Greene’s return is a welcome addition to a struggling Cougar team. Greene will be a big part of the run game for the Cougs, creating gaps for Borghi and McIntosh to run through.

So far this season, the Cougar rushing attack has gained an average of 135.7 yards per game. This statistic is low when compared to the passing yards per game at 231.33 yards. As seniors, Borghi and McIntosh need to be considered as two of WSU’s strongest offensive assets, able to gain yards for the team if passing plays are not working.

WSU quarterback Cammon Cooper (2) watches from the sideline during a game against USC Sept. 18 in Pullman.

Although suffering a loss, the Cougar defense had some noteworthy accomplishments in the USC game. WSU’s Jahad Woods recorded five tackles, moving him to seventh in WSU history. Woods was supported on defense by Armani Marsh and Daniel Isom, both catching their first career interceptions on Saturday. 

“He [Marsh] played a heck of a game. I hope people get a chance to pay attention to him when they’re in the stadium. He’s such a fantastic football player in person,” Rolovich said.

On Tuesday, Utah announced that quarterback Charlie Brewer chose to no longer be a part of the Utes’ football program. This news comes after he was replaced by Cam Rising in the third quarter of last weekend’s game. After coming into the game, Rising was able to rally the Utes offense, pushing the game into overtime. 

Brewer has been downhill for the Utes since the season opener against Weber State. Brewer completed 70.4 percent of his passes in that game, which declined to 57.7 percent against BYU and then lower to 53.8 percent against San Diego State. This downhill trend may be part of the reason Brewer is no longer on the roster.

Saturday marks the first time WSU will be in front of an opposing crowd since before the adjusted COVID-19 season last year. It will be interesting to see if the Utah crowd can cause communication trouble for the Cougs. In preparation for this year’s season, Rice-Eccles Stadium expanded the seating to hold a total of 51,444 screaming Utah fans, previously seating 45,807.

Fans can watch the game on the Pac-12 Network with kickoff set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.