Aggie-nizing: Washington State surrenders two late scores, sustains crushing Week 1 defeat

<p><p>PULLMAN – Washington State, favored big in Week 1 and entering its season with some decent expectations on the field, had opportunities to separate from Utah State.</p></p><p><p>The Cougars, whose program has been beset recently by less-than-ideal news off the field, had chances to boost morale in what felt like a must-win opener.</p></p><p><p>Instead, WSU sustained a crushing defeat.</p></p><p><p>The Aggies trailed by 12 points early in the fourth quarter, but rumbled back, reclaiming the lead with 11 seconds left on a methodical drive and stunning the Cougars 26-23 late on Saturday night at Gesa Field in front of almost 25,000 onlookers.</p></p><p><p>WSU’s crowd – its first since late in the 2019 season – was left dejected as the visitors raced around the turf in celebration of their first road win over a power conference team in 50 years.</p></p><p><p>Utah State, a squad with a first-year coaching staff and low outside expectations this season, took possession with about three minutes left and used a 10-play, 78-yard series to drain the clock.</p></p><p><p>After hitting consistently on quick throws outside against WSU’s loose coverage, the Aggies set up at the 7-yard line and quarterback Logan Bonner fired the clinching pass through a tight window over the middle to speedster Deven Thompkins, his favorite receiver of the day.</p></p><p><p>“They were just better than us in that two-minute drill,” WSU linebacker Justus Rogers said. “To be honest, they were the better team tonight. They played better than us.”</p></p><p><p>WSU’s defense made only one stop in the second half. The Aggies knocked through two field goals, but after forcing a three-and-out late in the third, it appeared the Cougars might manage to finally break away from the pesky Mountain West opponents.</p></p><p><p>Quarterback Jayden de Laura – who took over for starter Jarrett Guarantano after he went down with an injury early in the second period – guided the Cougs to the 2-yard line. In an odd turn of events, he was then replaced by Cammon Cooper.</p></p><p><p>Cooper handed the ball off twice out of a wishbone formation, which second-year coach Nick Rolovich figured could do the trick at the goal line. Both runs went for naught.</p></p><p><p>So WSU settled for its third Dean Janikowski field goal of the night and went up 23-11 with 12:11 left to play.</p></p><p><p>“I think we could have put that game away,” Rolovich said. “That’s on me, not ending that thing with a touchdown when we got down to the 2.”</p></p><p><p>Still, the Cougars seemed firmly in control. That is, until Utah State churned out a seven-minute series that ended with a touchdown, then promptly snuffed out three conservative Cougar plays.</p></p><p><p>“We just kicked too many field goals, weren’t good on third down (3 of 11),” Rolovich said. “We gotta play better than that on offense. I understand that last play with the defense out there, but they (the defenders) held us in that game for a long time. We gotta be better offensively.”</p></p><p><p>WSU’s run-and-shoot offense was outgained 439-355 by Utah State’s fast-paced attack – installed by new coach Blake Anderson.</p></p><p><p>“You gotta give coach Anderson and that team credit … the tempo was tough,” Rolovich said. “They tried to get people in space. They just did a really good job.”</p></p><p><p>The Aggies leaned on their ground game for extended periods and pushed around the Cougars’ defensive front for 220 yards on 45 carries (an average of 4.9 yards per rush).</p></p><p><p>WSU didn’t record a sack and didn’t put much pressure on Bonner during the final series.</p></p><p><p>But the Cougs’ defense kept Utah State and its quarterback platoon out of the end zone early, supplying its offense time to find a groove. Once it did, WSU had all the momentum for a stretch in the second half.</p></p><p><p>Running back Max Borghi burst outside and outran everyone for a 64-yard touchdown midway through the third. He’d only logged six yards on six carries prior to that, and finished with 86 yards on just 11 attempts.</p></p><p><p>With de Laura looking in rhythm, the Cougars swelled their advantage to 20-11 at 3:16 in the third. The sophomore from Hawaii perfectly placed a pass on a slant to Donovan Ollie, who bullied through a defender for a 12-yard score that lifted WSU to a 20-11 edge.</p></p><p><p>“I’d say I had that in the back of my mind: We could have put them away,” said de Laura, who passed 12 of 22 for 150 yards and added 42 yards on seven carries.</p></p><p><p>A wacky first half was overshadowed by the finish. Guarantano, who won a quarterback competition against de Laura this week, was hit-and-miss early. He relied mostly on the short game, completing 8 of 13 tosses for 56 yards.</p></p><p><p>The Cougs’ offense lacked mojo, starting the game with two jumbled drives before getting on the board with a field goal early in the second.</p></p><p><p>Utah State’s punt team pinned the Cougs and Guarantano back against their own end zone on the ensuing series, and on third-and-7, Aggie defensive end Patrick Joyner Jr. crunched the Tennessee transfer on a sack for a safety.</p></p><p><p>Guarantano hobbled off the field and didn’t return. Rolovich said he “got a little banged up” and is unsure of the quarterback’s status.</p></p><p><p>WSU went into the half leading by an unusual tally of 6-5, with its defense stealing the spotlight.</p></p><p><p>Rogers forced a fumble, which was recovered by Andrew Edson, and cornerback Derrick Langford jumped a deep ball from Bonner for an impressive pick, then had a big return to set up a field goal.</p></p><p><p>“I don’t think we got to a point where we showed our full capabilities,” said receiver Calvin Jackson Jr., the Cougs’ top target (59 yards). “We let the defense down tonight.”</p></p>