How Homecoming went south for the Utes


- Erin Burns

Sometimes players say it exactly how it is.
“We had a 21-point lead, and things went down south from there,” said Utah running back Devontae Booker. “We had a lot of chances, opportunities to win, just didn’t come through today.”
Things started off so well for the Utes.
Eric Rowe picked off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday for a touchdown. Kaelin Clay tied the school record with his third punt return touchdown of the year. Booker scampered 76 yards to the end zone. All was well at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Then things started to go south.
Halliday slowly started to find holes in the Utes’ defense, leading drive after drive into Utah territory. In the early parts of the game, it felt like Utah’s defense was going to mirror what it had done against Michigan a week earlier — bend, but not break. Utah was able to hold off the high-powered offense for a time, stopping the Cougars on downs a number of times. But then the defensive dam broke.
In the second half, the Utes saw firsthand what Halliday could do as he led the Wazzu comeback. Utah’s defensive front stopped pressuring the Cougar signal caller, and Halliday started gunning Washington State down the field.
Soon the home fans’ smiles were wiped away and joy turned to shock. The offense that excited fans in the first two home games was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t even a shadow of itself. It was flat-out nonexistent.
It all went south.
“When you score one offensive touchdown, you don’t have much of a chance to win,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “That was really the issue. We have to be more productive, particularly throwing the ball. Dropped some balls, didn’t make plays that we could have made — should have made.”
After the first quarter, all the play-makers were on the Washington State sideline, and no one shone as brightly as Halliday.
In the second quarter facing a fourth-and-nine from the Utah 35, Halliday hit a wide-open Dom Williams in the end zone to begin the Cougar comeback. Halliday would duplicate his fourth down conversion prowess in the fourth quarter by hooking up with Williams again for a touchdown on a fourth-and-14 from the Utah 20.
The comeback was complete when Halliday hit Vince Mayle on a crossing route that went 81 yards for the game-winning score.
Halliday came out of halftime ready for a shootout, while Utah was searching for ammo.
The Utes’ three-touchdown first quarter masked what was the case from the very beginning of the contest: Utah couldn’t move the ball.
Wilson was under 200 yards passing and completed under 50 percent of his throws, Dres Anderson was held without a catch and dropped two balls that may have sent him running for the end zone, and Kaelin Clay lost a fumble in Washington State territory — a turnover that led to a Cougar touchdown.
“We didn’t do a good job throwing the football,” Whittingham said. “You can’t win games going 18-for-38 for a 100 or something yards. That’s not good enough, not in this league, nowhere near good enough.”
After scoring more points in the first two games of a season than any other Utah team, the 2014 Utes have scored just two offensive touchdowns in their last two games.
Wilson, so productive in the first two contests, was overthrowing, underthrowing and just plain missing receivers Saturday night.
“Off night,” Whittingham said of his quarterback. “Throws he usually makes sailing on him a little bit. We had a lot of drops, his numbers would look a lot better if we make the catches we usually make. It’s not one person’s fault, I’m not trying to point the finger exclusively at the offense. As I said, all we had to do is get a stop on defense, or make another big play on special teams. We’re all involved, but I know we have to be more productive on offense. We have to.”
The Utes have to, or there’s no telling how far south things can go.
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