This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah's second-half collapse in Saturday's 28-27 loss to Washington State was not exactly a strong endorsement for a coaching staff that has a lot to prove this season.
Offensively, the Utes produced only a field goal after halftime, and that came via a short drive that started at the WSU 43-yard line after a fumble recovery. Defensively, the Utes gave up three touchdowns in the second half two on long drives and the game-winner on an 81-yard pass play.
Coach Mike Leach and the rest of the Cougar staff obviously figured out some things after falling behind 21-0 barely nine minutes into the game. Conversely, Utah's offense struggled and the defense wore down.
The Utes' troubles, however, were not attributable to coach Kyle Whittingham or offensive coordinator Dave Christensen being too conservative. Nobody can say Utah played not to lose, in other words. The Utes just didn't play well which is the coaches' fault, but game management was not the problem.
Whittingham's decision to punt with a 27-21 lead in the fourth quarter was completely defensible. After running back Devontae Booker was stopped at the Utah 44-yard line on a third-and-1 play, punting was the right call. More than six minutes remained in the game, so a fourth-down conversion would have run more time off the clock, but not enough.
It would have taken the Utes about another 25 yards to get into field-goal range. As it was, Tom Hackett punted the ball to the WSU 8, which is pretty close to the best result Utah could have achieved on that drive.
The problem was the Cougars converted a 3rd-and-3 play on the first series with another clutch catch by River Cracraft, then Connor Haliiday found Vince Mayle over the middle and Mayle turned the short pass into a touchdown.
Just to complete Utah's ineffective half, Dres Anderson dropped a pass on what looked like a sure 72-yard touchdown and the Utes later turned the ball over on downs and did so again, after getting one last chance.
So everything conspired against Whittingham, who's 9-19 in conference games in Utah's fourth season of Pac-12 membership, and now the Utes have to visit No. 8 UCLA.
Saturday's other development was a devaluing of Utah's 26-10 win at Michigan the previous week, as Minnesota went into the Big House and took a 30-14 victory. So instead of being 4-0, Utah settled for a 3-1 record that suddenly doesn't look all that great.