Cougars begin road trip in Utah

Falk to be greeted by hundreds of friends, family members before competing in his home state


KIERA CLUBB | Daily Evergreen file

WSU senior linebacker Frankie Luvu eyes the oncoming Stanford defenders during Saturday’s game. The Cougars won 24-21.

DYLAN GREENE, Evergreen asst. sports editor

WSU football (8-2, 5-2) makes its third road trip of the season when the team travels to Salt Lake City for a game against University of Utah (5-4, 2-4) on Saturday.

The Cougars are coming off a 24-21 victory over Stanford last week and now rank No. 19. WSU trailed 21-17 entering the fourth quarter of that game, before redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk led a game-winning touchdown drive. It was his seventh career fourth quarter comeback win at WSU.

Junior wide receiver Tavares Martin Jr. said he prefers games that are close and hard-fought.

“You don’t want [wins] to be easy because if it’s easy, it’s boring,” Martin Jr. said. “The most fun memories you’ll have playing this game will be in difficult games.”

Utah is fresh off a 48-17 victory over University of California, Los Angeles. The win ended the Utes’ four-game losing streak, after they started the season 4-0.

Utah sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley has thrown 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. The Utes’ leading senior wide receiver, Darren Carrington II, has 58 receptions for 830 yards and six touchdowns.

Carrington is a graduate transfer from University of Oregon, where he played in 33 games from 2014 to 2016. The Cougar defense held Carrington to two receptions for 24 yards in the three times they faced him as a Duck.

The receiver suffered a leg injury in Utah’s last game and Head Coach Kyle Whittingham said he hopes Carrington will be able to play Saturday.

When the Cougars step on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Utah, they will be looking to end a two-game road losing streak. WSU lost its only two games this season against University of California and University of Arizona.

Head Coach Mike Leach said multiple factors have contributed to the team’s road struggles.

“At Cal, the ball bounced as funny as I’ve ever seen it bounce in a game that I’ve been involved in,” Leach said. “Arizona, they played extremely well offensively, and I’m sure there’s a thing or two we’d do over on defense.”

Leach said the team can overcome the road struggles if they play their brand of football.

“We just got to keep doing the same stuff,” he said. “Just eliminate the distractions and focus on your job. I wish I had a more exciting answer.”

WSU redshirt freshman wide receiver Renard Bell has 28 receptions for 452 yards and three touchdowns. As a freshman, he’s received the third most yards on the team.

Martin Jr. said Bell made plays when the team needed him to.

“I mean it’s huge to have somebody step up like that as a freshman … and make big time catches in big time games just like last week,” Martin Jr. said.

Leach said Bell has continued to improve, and credits his mentality for his ability to break out this season.

“He’s always got a fantastic attitude,” Leach said. “He never lets any previous play bother him, he always starts fresh each play.”

The Cougars have played without redshirt senior linebacker Isaac Dotson for the past four games. But, this week’s WSU depth chart has an “or” listed between Dotson and redshirt freshman Justus Rogers at middle linebacker, possibly indicating the return of Dotson.

Redshirt senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer hasn’t played in a game since breaking his foot against Boise State, but redshirt freshmen linebacker Jahad Woods said Pelluer is still impacting the team from the sidelines.

“He’s helped me, he’s helped Justus and he’s helped all the younger guys,” Woods said. “Peyton could be a coach in the future, I definitely see it.”

WSU needs to win its final two games of the regular season to win the Pac-12 North title and make it to the conference championship game.

Martin Jr. said the team is aware of the final two games’ importance, and has a must win mentality every game they play.

“Unfortunately, right now, these last two games are really crucial for us,” Martin Jr. said. “Hopefully we can pull them out.”

Salt Lake City is about 80 miles from Logan, Utah, the hometown of Falk. Over one hundred of Falk’s friends and family members are expected to be in attendance for his second-to-last regular season game as a Cougar.

Leach said he wants Falk to stay focused on the game and avoid any distractions.

“Hopefully, [Falk] successfully ignores them until after the game,” Leach said, “and remembers that they’ll love him just a little bit more if we beat Utah instead of lose to them.”

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will also be broadcasted live on Pac-12 Networks.