FACTS & STATS: Site: Martin Stadium (31,700) -- Pullman, Washington. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: Utah 3-3, WSU 2-2. Away Record: Utah 1-3, WSU 3-2. Neutral Record: Utah 0-0, WSU 0-1. Conference Record: Utah 1-6, WSU 3-4. Series Record: Utah leads, 7-5.
GAME NOTES: Armed with a new contract extension that will take him through the 2018 campaign, Washington State head coach Mike Leach leads his Cougars into battle against Pac-12 rival Utah on Saturday afternoon.
Coach Leach has the Cougars at an even 5-5, and was able to bring an end to a three-game slide last weekend with a 24-17 victory over Arizona on the road. However, WSU is still only 3-4 in conference play and that means the group is tied with Washington for fourth place in the North Division standings.
As for the Utes, they are buried at the bottom of the South Division with Colorado, sporting a record of just 1-6 after losing to sixth-ranked Oregon last weekend, 44-21. The defeat was the fourth in a row and the fifth in six tries for head coach Kyle Whittingham and his crew.
The Utes lead the all-time series by a count of 7-5, posting a resounding 49-6 victory in last year's matchup.
Against the Ducks last weekend, Utah went scoreless in the first quarter and was nearly shutout for the first half, before Adam Schulz hit Jake Murphy with a 34-yard TD pass at the 2:52 mark of the second frame. Filling in for the injured Travis Wilson who will miss the remainder of the season, Schulz completed 13-of-30 passes for 181 yards and was intercepted once. The signal caller also scored once on the ground as the Utes struggled to come up with 297 yards of total offense.
With Wilson out of the picture, now it means the Utes will have to finish yet another season with a different quarterback than the one they started with. Not since Brian Johnson led Utah to a perfect 13-0 record in 2008 has the team had the same quarterback start and complete a full season. Wilson had been only marginally successful really, tossing just as many interceptions (16) as he had touchdowns, but the Utes didn't have much choice.
Dres Anderson still gives the team the best option down the field after turning his 41 catches into 779 yards and six touchdowns, although Sean Fitzgerald has also made a significant impact with five TDs on only 27 receptions.
On the ground, the Utes are paced by Bubba Poole with his 592 yards on 141 carries, but his two touchdowns, while now tied for the team-high among active players, is three fewer than Wilson.
On the defensive side, Trevor Reilly continues to be a huge factor for the Utes as he not only leads the team in total tackles with 83, he is also first with 15.0 TFL and 8.5 sacks, not to mention recovering three fumbles for a program that is ranked 116th in the country with minus-1.0 turnovers per contest.
A 25-yard TD pass from Connor Halliday to Isiah Myers with just over two minutes remaining in regulation is just what the Cougars needed in order to come away with the win at Arizona last weekend. Halliday connected on 39-of-53 passes for 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns, notching his seventh 300-yard passing game in the process.
Although WSU produced only 101 yards on 27 rushing attempts, Marcus Mason was still influential with his 11 carries for 63 yards and a score.
On the defensive side, Justin Sagote (12 tackles), Darryl Monroe (11) and Deone Bucannon (11) all had a hand in slowing down the Wildcats.
Arizona produced 395 yards of offense, a number that sounds significant enough, but in reality is far below what the Cougars have been allowing these days (447.3 rpg) as the 102nd ranked defense in the country. The group has had particular issues slowing down accomplished passing attacks, giving up 262.3 rpg which is 105th nationally.
However, as weak as the defense has been at times, it is still the offense that garners most of the attention for this Leach-led program. WSU is ranked seventh in the country in passing with 360.4 ypg, but while Halliday has completed 63.7 percent of his attempts for 22 touchdowns, he has also been picked off 19 times.
According to the NCAA rankings, Utah has been saddled with the second-toughest schedule in college football, and because of that the Utes will more than likely be on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington State 37, Utah 31
Saturday, November 23, 3:30 p.m. (et).