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Improved WSU withstands Utah’s rally to become bowl eligible

Washington State defenders teamed up to stop Utah running back Kelvin York during the second half on Saturday in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Washington State defenders teamed up to stop Utah running back Kelvin York during the second half on Saturday in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Jacob Thorpe And Thomas Clouse Staff writers

PULLMAN—When the Cougars took on Utah a year ago they were beaten 49-6 in Salt Lake City. After the game, coach Mike Leach sent out his offensive and defensive lines to take questions from the media as units to answer for what he considered a lackluster effort.

Don’t think they didn’t remember that on Saturday when the Cougars put together one of their best games of the season to beat Utah 49-37 and knock the Utes out of contention for a bowl game.

“We weren’t trying to think about last year, but it was in the back of my mind at least,” center Elliott Bosch said. “We knew we owed them one and to go out and have a performance like that, we enjoyed it.”

The last time Utah played in Pullman the Cougars lost in overtime in a game that quarterback Connor Halliday played with a lacerated liver. Many WSU fans felt that the game should not have gone to overtime as WSU receiver Marquess Wilson appeared to cross the goal line but was not credited with a touchdown near the end of the game.

After the game, Leach acknowledged that the offensive line has improved as much as a unit as any he’s had in nearly 12 years as a head coach. The entire team has improved, according to Leach, and that improvement is showing up in the win-loss column.

“It’s all a byproduct of making the most of your individual plays and people doing their job together,” Leach said. “I think as we get better and mature as a team, we’re better at doing our job together from one play to the next.”

He added that last year’s team would not have been able to respond to the adversity WSU faced on Saturday night when Utah twice cut WSU’s lead to six points. The Cougars have faced similar adversity this season and wilted. Against Oregon State at home WSU gave up 35 consecutive points over little more than a quarter to turn a 24-24 game into a 52-24 blowout.

“I doubt it. Well, the thing is, the same thing happened in the Oregon State game and we didn’t respond in the Oregon State game in the fashion we did today,” Leach said. “Because we traded blows with OSU and then as it heated up we didn’t respond as well.”

But the Cougars responded in the fourth quarter against Utah, nursing a 43-37 lead, quarterback Connor Halliday hit Dominique Williams in stride on a slant route. Williams quickly cut upfield and dashed 71 yards to bowl eligibility.

Halliday historically prolific

Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense has found a weapon in Connor Halliday, as the junior continues to assault team and Pac-12 records.

With one game remaining, Halliday has completed 380 passes, which is the new single-season record for Washington State and only seven shy of the Pac-12 record. Unless his arms falls off, Halliday will set the record next Saturday in Seattle.

Halliday’s 597 pass attempts have already set conference and team records for a season. The wheels would have to absolutely come off next week for Halliday to break the interceptions thrown record. He has 19. The record holders are Timm Rosenbach and Ty Paine, each who threw 24.

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