Here we are, Week 11, a road game in the Rocky Mountains. A year ago, this is where the Washington State football season went awry.
Oh, the scenario is different in a few ways.
The opponent today is unranked Utah, whereas in 2016 it was a giddily ascendant No. 12 Colorado. The game site is Salt Lake City, elevation 4,226 feet, about 1,200 below that of Boulder, Colo.
But there are some definite parallels with last season as Wazzu (8-2, 5-2) heads into an important road test at 2:30 p.m. PST today against the Utes (5-4, 2-4).
The Cougars are ranked 19th, one spot higher than a year ago. They’re again aiming for a Pac-12 North title, and this time they can’t afford to lose in Game 11. (A year ago, the more crucial game was the Apple Cup.)
More critically, the possibility of fatigue besetting the Cougs is distinct, not so much because of the elevation but because they haven’t had a rest in ages. The Colorado game in 2016 was their eighth straight without a bye. Today’s contest is their 11th in a row. Their only bye of the season comes next week, whereas Utah took a hiatus after Game 4.
Also, the Cougars are facing a highly physical team for the second consecutive week – in Salt Lake City, where the Utes also played last week. Despite a statistically dominant performance by WSU last Saturday, Luke Falk needed to whip up a late 94-yard touchdown drive to get past Stanford 24-21.
“We took a punch to the face,” WSU tailback Jamal Morrow said, referring to an early TD run by Stanford phenom Bryce Love, “and it was our job to punch back. That’s exactly what we did.”
This will be the Cougs’ first game against Utah since they erased a 21-point deficit to win 28-27 at a rainy Salt Lake City in 2014. But WSU coach Mike Leach, who considers Utah coach Kyle Whittingham a friend, expects the same hard-nosed team that has typified Whittingham’s 13-year tenure at the school. It won’t be unlike the Colorado club of a year ago.
“They’re big and physical, like they always are,” Leach said of the Utah defense. “They’re almost a carbon copy every year. Strong, physical guys – thick up front, tall D-ends.”
On defense, the Cougars will try to contain dual-threat quarterback Bryce Huntley, who passed for 234 yards and ran for 93 last week in a 48-17 home win over UCLA, snapping a four-game losing streak. The Utes can become bowl-eligible with a…