Why the Cougs lost to Utah 

A weak O-line and a tough defense led to a WSU loss.



Utah running back Jaylon Glover (1) runs through the WSU defense during an NCAA football match, Oct. 27.

ERICK AGUILAR, Evergreen reporter

I like to believe I know the game of football pretty well, so here is my honest opinion on why the Cougars lost their Thursday night game against the Utes from University of Utah. 

On Thursday, I had the privilege of watching the game from the press box. This was a new and different experience for me. It was my turn to stop screaming barbarically from the student section and sit with other journalists to methodically capture the game play-by-play. 

For the Cougs. A nervous game against a strong opponent. For the Utes, just another game on the road. 

To start, I will say, the game was closer than I anticipated. All week, my fellow colleagues from Murrow College asked for score predictions. I would always respond 35-14, Utah. The score was 21-17, closer than I credit the team for, but there are some clear-cut reasons as to why we lost that game. 

Lack of offensive line presence, this is the big one here. 

  • Cam Ward was sacked four times. Sure a couple of those could be attributed to his decision-making, but four sacks are still four sacks.
  • The Cougar rushing numbers reflect a lackluster O-line. The Cougs only rushed for a total of 82 yards. 59 of which came from Ward. Yes, some of those were design runs, but a good portion were him working magic with his legs to escape the sack.

The Cougars simply cannot win football games if they cannot run the ball. Sure, the starter Nakia Watson was out. Dylan Paine and Jaylen Jenkins took over the load but they combined for a mere six attempts and 23 yards. The run game was never established and had no identity to it. 

I will say, Paine, despite mostly being on the practice squad, showed out for the Cougs. Playing the role of an offensive back out of the backfield, Paine definitely showed coaches a reason for him to get more time under the lights of Martin Stadium. I mean sure, he only had two rushing attempts for 10 yards. But out of the backfield he saw three receptions for 29 yards. 

  • The inability of the offense to execute 
    • I almost feel as though there is no set identity in play calling, it was hard for me to identify a general theme of what the offense was trying to exploit.
    •  Passing the ball, sure the team has their primary weapon in De’Zhaun Stribling, but is he good enough for us to give him a heavier load? A better question might be, can the offense grant him those opportunities? 

“Offensively we’re just not doing anything well to lean our hat on right now. There’s just a lot of things that we need to look in the mirror and try to figure out what we can do well, and we gotta lean on that,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said.

Defensively speaking, I think the Cougs played a good ball game. I mean the Utes were held to 186 rushing yards and 175 passing yards, after averaging 217 rushing and 214 passing. 

HOWEVER, it must be mentioned that Utah lost their two leading running backs Tavion Thomas and TJ Pledger. Even more important was the absence of starting quarterback Cameron Rising, because of a knee injury. Rising has been lights out this season, leading a gunslinging offense averaging 192 yards passing with a 64% completion rate. 

The Utes team typically resembles a Seahawks blueprint team. You know what I mean, good defense and a hard-nosed running game.

 This year is different. They have adapted their offense around Rising, a deep wide receiver squad and Dalton Kincaidthe stud tight end.

Kincaid, who usually averages 80 yards, was held to 56 yards against the Cougs. This leads me to conclude two possible theories:

First, a lot of Utah’s offensive schemes were designed for Kincaid, and without the usual man under center, those plays were harder to execute. Because typically, a TE is a safety blanket for an inexperienced QB. A big man with hands that eats up targets at short range? Yeah, that’s a God-send for a new QB. 

Second, the safety blanket that is a reliable TE such as Kincaid was nullified by the multiple stud defense players of Armani Marsh, Jaden Hicks, Daiyan Henley and Brennan Jackson. Without the ability to find and exploit personal mismatches, Kincaid remained a 240-pound paperweight. 

Let me provide some concluding context here, the Utes are the reigning Pac-12 champs, this is a good football team no denying that. But was it a winnable game? Absolutely. If the Cougars play their best they can fight toe to toe against ranked opponents such as the likes of the No. 15 Oregon Ducks. It is true, the Cougars lost that game, but only by a massive stroke of misfortune in the last minutes of the game. 

So in hindsight, we lost a game against a team without their most lethal offensive starters, a good team nonetheless. The Utah defense is nothing to overlook, they stopped our offense pretty well. Or were the Cougars simply unable to produce behind a mediocre offensive line and an offense with no identity?

My point is, the Utes did not play their best ball either, I mean they were incapable of doing so due to their injuries. But we have the ability to beat them, it’s not impossible, and we are also capable of beating teams of similar caliber.