Pullman, Wash. • The Utah Utes may have had the will, they just didn’t have the way.
Saturday’s 49-37 loss to Washington State just about sums up Utah’s shortcomings this season.
StorylinesIn short » Utah’s loss to the Cougars prevents Utah from reaching bowl eligibility for the second year in a row.
Key moment » After the Utes cut WSU’s lead to 43-37, WSU quarterback Connor Halliday connects with Dominique Williams for a 71-yard pass play with 4:42 remaining to seal the win.
Key stat » Utah gives up a season-high 578 yards of offense.
The Utes (4-7, 1-7) gave up big plays in the throw game, had too many turnovers and never got their offense rolling.
It all added up to be yet another disappointing loss as Saturday’s outcome will leave the Utes at best a game short of bowl eligibility this year.
The Utes never imagined they’d be in this position after they upended Stanford a few weeks ago, but injuries and a disintegrating offense have put the Utes in exactly the scenario they wanted to avoid.
"We tried everything we could to win," said tight end Jake Murphy, who finished with five catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. "Ultimately we lost. It is a heartbreaker."
The last time Utah failed to go to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons was 1997 and 1998. But the Utes at least finished 6-5 and 7-4 in those years.
The only bragging rights the Utes have this year is a sweep of its state opponents and that upset over Stanford. But rather than consolation, the wins against Stanford and BYU only add a little salt to the wound as the wins gave glimpses of what might have been, but never transpired for the Utes this season.
Saturday’s win made the Cougars (6-5, 4-4) bowl eligible for the first time since 2003. WSU’s players and fans celebrated on the field while the Utes looked shell-shocked as they made their way to their locker room.
"Losing five straight after beating the fourth or fifth-ranked team in the country, I don’t know," defensive end Trevor Reilly said of the season. "I don’t have an answer for it."
The Utes didn’t have an answer for WSU’s offense either, as quarterback Connor Halliday finished 39-of-62 for 488 yards and four touchdowns. Altogether the Utes yielded a season-high 578 yards of offense to the Cougars.
"Their skill on offense absolutely throttled our skill on defense," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Their receivers and their quarterback dominated our pass coverage. That was the real difference in the game."
The Utes had to play from behind from the start as two interceptions by Adam Schulz helped WSU take a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.
Schulz finished the game 21-of-46 for 347 yards and three touchdowns, but couldn’t forget those two interceptions.
"Giving the team two pick-sixes off the bat obviously is not helping the team," a teary-eyed Schulz said. "It’s completely on me, on my shoulders, all of it. There’s not much of a worse feeling than disappointing everybody."
The Utes didn’t give up and kept battling back. But every time the Utes threatened, WSU answered.
The final gasp came when Schuz and Murphy connected on a 64-yard touchdown play that cut WSU’s lead to 43-37 with 12:28 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Utah forced WSU to punt on the following drive, then came up empty on its next drive when the Utes went to running back Kelvin York on three straight plays and he failed to get a first down.
WSU then put the game away when Halliday connected with Dominque Williams on a 71-yard pass play to make it 49-37 with 4:42 remaining.
Whittingham tried to remain positive after the game.
"This is a resilient group and they’ve done that all year long," he said. "Still we’ve got to get the Ws. That’s the bottom line. We’ve got a bunch of high character, tough kids and we have just got to get better. We’ve got our work cut out for us in recruiting at the perimeter. We have been saying it all year long — that is where we’ve got to make some ground up."
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