The Utah Utes came into Pullman last season a bit overconfident, after all they had taken out Stanford earlier in the year and just wasted Washington State the year before in Salt Lake City.
So the Utes weren’t buying into the WSU-hype, even though they had defeated the Arizona Wildcats down in Tuscon just the week before and had a 5-5 record to show for their season. Utah was here to put Washington State back in its place!
The Cougs were having none of it and dominated early before finding a way to hold onto a two-score advantage late in the ballgame. This season they need to take the next step and go take one in Salt Lake. This seems like a bit of a trap-game, if ever one could exist with a WSU team coming off of their first bowl appearance in 10 seasons.
Don’t anticipate the Cougs to take Utah lightly on the return trip (Mike Leach won’t let them and plenty were there in the blowout of 2012) but the team is still learning the ins and outs of playing the full 60 minutes, so it might not happen the same way it did last year. To add to that, Rice Eccles is one of the most difficult spots to go into and win, not just in the Pac-12, in the nation. Weird stuff happens there, ask Stanford and Utah State.
Heck, even in their losses at home the craziest stuff happened, OSU, ASU and UCLA barely escaped with their lives. It’s always sold out, the crowd rocks, the stadium shakes, the stands rumble, the team in red (or black) plays better than they are, it just happens.
Bottom line, a win is not going to just happen upon you in the mountains of Salt Lake. If the Cougs are to come out unscathed they will need to play a great football game, give a whole lot of effort, respond to adversity and acquire themselves a little luck along the way. Connor Halliday will have to play a great game at quarterback and the defense will also need to put in a better effort against receiver Dres Anderson, who torched the Cougs in a 5 catch, 129 yard day with a touchdown last season.
And this is all after taking on the Oregon Ducks at home the week before, in what should be a fun but emotionally draining game. It could very well be Washington State’s first loss of the season or the biggest win since the Cougs beat UCLA in Pasadena to secure a spot in the Rose Bowl in 2001. Either way, it will be another difficult obstacle to overcome. But these Cougs are different animals. Finally they are a more veteran team and they have lost before and bounced back, on the road no less. If they somehow upset the Duckies it will be all about dealing with success.
Regardless of what happens against the UofO, the Cougars will need to be ready for Salt Lake and the Utes. But just how much will they have left in the tank? If they can muster up an effort to come out victorious, it will be another step forward for a program that is ready to start moving towards the top of the North.