Utah enters the danger zone in matchup with first Pac-12 opponent, Washington State


— Courtesy of WSU Athletic Communications                             — Chris Ayers
The sorority and fraternity houses are decorated, the campus is laced with red and the Union building is aglow after another successful Crimson Rally. The Utes are now set to take on the Washington State Cougars for the 2014 Homecoming game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The 1-3 Cougars come to Salt Lake City after a gritty performance against Oregon that resulted in a 38-31 loss at home in Pullman, Wash. The game saw Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday go 43-for-63 passing for 436 yards and four touchdowns. When asked about Halliday’s performance, Washington State head coach Mike Leach said he was “pleased, but not surprised.” He then went on to credit Halliday’s receiving corps and offensive line for his incredible stats so far this season.
“He’s gotten better and better as time’s gone on, and he deserves some credit for that, but his receivers improving deserve credit for it, his offensive line improving deserve credit for it, his running backs playing well deserve credit for it because they all work together,” Leach said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “But that was something that really started to take off midway through last year, and I think Connor’s done a better and better job of being the same guy every day, so these guys can all draw from him and what he’s going to do by position and whatnot.”
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham continues to praise Halliday, especially after last season’s matchup in Pullman where he saw Halliday throw for 488 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-37 win for the Cougars.
“He spreads the ball around,” Whittingham said about Halliday. “Their top five reception leaders are all wide receivers, and there are going to be four receivers on the field basically the whole time. He gets the ball out exceptionally quick, it’s hard to get to him because he gets it out of his hands so quick and he makes such quick reads.”
Whittingham has said all week the Cougars are a “dangerous football team” with numerous weapons at their disposal, particularly in the passing game. However, he also noted that the Utes are markedly improved in several positions on the field.
“I think we’re faster. We’re better on the perimeters with the wide receivers and the secondary,” Whittingham said. “I know we’re getting good quarterback pay right now, and that has to continue. I just think we’re improved across the board, but everyone else in the conference is as well.”
Whittingham knows his offense is going to have to perform at a high level in order to compete with the offensive stature of Washington State. While they scored 26 points against a tough Michigan defense last weekend, they are going to have to be more effective to walk out of Rice-Eccles Stadium with a win on Saturday.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is going to be an integral part of that offensive output and will need to be efficient and dangerous in order to keep the Cougar offense at bay. Wilson was relatively pleased with his offense after the Michigan game, but he noted there were improvements to be made before Wazzu comes to town.
“We didn’t run the ball very well in the Michigan game … that’s something that we need to get better at this week,” Wilson said. “We weren’t bad in the passing game, we just got to make more completions and make it count in the red zone as well.”
Wilson is also keenly aware of the Utes’ 3-0 record and said he is completely focused on improving it to 4-0 after Saturday night’s homecoming game.
“We want to start out on a good note in the Pac-12, and that starts with the game this Saturday,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a good team coming in here, but it’s our job to maintain focus and keep on preparing like we have been.”
The game against Washington State on Saturday is set to kickoff at 6 p.m. MT.
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