Utah copes with loss to Washington State, sets sights on UCLA

- Brent Uberty

After Washington State’s 28-27 comeback victory Saturday, sounds of jubilation were heard from the Cougar locker room. They had every reason to celebrate.
“There’s a bunch of guys that could have packed it in after the struggles we had, but we stayed in there,” said Washington State head coach Mike Leach after the game.
It’s hard to tell if he was talking about this game or his team’s season. After starting off 0-2 with losses to Rutgers and Nevada, a victory over Utah was paramount if Washington State wanted to return to a bowl game.
Greeted with a massive deficit almost immediately, the Cougars didn’t quit. They never stopped fighting, and eventually they stole the victory behind a 417-yard and four-touchdown performance from quarterback Connor Halliday.
“Give credit to Washington State,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “They hung in there, they persevered and made plays. Halliday is a tough kid, good quarterback. They kept playing hard. I didn’t see any of our guys stop playing hard. It wasn’t lack of effort, we just stopped making plays for whatever reason.”
Washington State was coming off a heartbreaking loss to No. 2 Oregon, and now Utah will get a chance to redeem itself after their soul-crushing defeat when it visits No. 8 UCLA next week.
“Yeah, makes things real easy, going on the road against a top-10 team — no, we’re going to find out who we are this week,” Whittingham said. “We have to come back and come to work Monday morning. It’s a big challenge. UCLA has a lot of things going for them.”
Clay ties record in loss
Heading into Saturday’s contest, Utah return man Kaelin Clay had already become a household name to Ute fans. He may be going for a more national following.
Clay tied Steve Smith’s school record with his third punt return touchdown of the season in the first quarter against the Cougars. The 58-yard return may have been his best.
Clay appeared to be trapped on the sideline for a minimal return, when he spun out of tackle and broke free across the field. Clay beat everyone in a footrace to the end zone.
“It was set up by the other 10 guys on the field, I had two great blocks,” Clay said.
The return specialist didn’t want to celebrate his record-tying performance though.
“I could care less about the punt return record,” Clay said. “I would rather be 4-0 than have a punt return. So yeah, it’s great to have, but I’d rather be 4-0.”
Tevin Carter’s absence
Safety Tevin Carter did not appear in Saturday’s contest, and his absence was felt. Whittingham said that on two Cougar touchdowns a safety was out of position. As someone who has excelled this season as a last line of defense, Carter’s absence may have made the difference in the game. Utah doesn’t give reports on injuries that aren’t season-ending, but Whittingham did offer a little bit of hope after the game.
“We don’t know yet [if Carter will play next week against UCLA],” Whittingham said. “We hope so. We hope so. He’s a good player.”
[email protected]