By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
SALT LAKE CITY — By the time Mike Leach had finally finished ripping his team’s effort, he continued by ripping their effort.
And by forcing his entire offensive and defensive lines to answer questions from reporters after the most disappointing and disheartening effort by a WSU team in … well, in at least a year or so.
“Our effort today was pitiful,” Leach said, and you get the feeling he feels pretty strongly about that. “It starts with our coaches. Our coaches, me in particular, it starts with me, starts with my assistants, we need to be able to reach our players, get good effort. Our effort was horrible.”
Few can question that assessment after this disaster, a 49-6 Utah victory that easily ranks as the worst of the season and the most damning indictment yet that WSU simply isn’t ready to win.
“That could have been a zombie convention out there,” Leach said.
The Cougars can forget about a bowl game now, their sixth straight loss and seventh overall assuring a 10th consecutive season without a postseason. WSU (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12) narrowly avoided the first shutout of Leach’s head coaching career by scoring on the final play of the game, a 5-yard pass from Jeff Tuel to Kristoff Williams.
“Utah’s a good team, deserves a lot of credit and all that,” Leach said. “Utah’s not that good and we’re not that bad, but despite what the score is, they could have beat us by 100.”
Of all the lows the Cougars have reached in the last five years, all the rock-bottoms it has plummeted clean through, this may have been the worst.
The Cougars watched as Utah drove for touchdowns on its second, third, fourth and final possessions of the first half.
The Utes (4-5, 2-4) did what they wanted. John White broke a 47-yard touchdown run to start it off, sweeping past the tackle attempt of WSU defensive lineman Ioane Gauta. Eight plays and 69 yards had Utah in the end zone again less than 6 minutes later, quarterback Travis Wilson tossing an easy touchdown pass to fullback Max Moala after a play-fake.
That was 14-0. That was all that was needed. That was game over.
Utah went ahead and scored a whole bunch more after that — nobody seemed willing to stop them, after all — and led 31-0 at halftime before adding insult to insult to insult with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Reggie Dunn, his third in two weeks and NCAA-record fourth of his career.
The play that followed — a swinging-gate extra-point formation that resulted in a successful conversion run by Jake Murphy for a 39-0 lead — typified WSU’s crush of ineptitude.
“If we’re too stupid to line up to it,” Leach spat, “it’s our own damn fault.”
Also their fault: Tuel was sacked five times in the first half and six total, a clip that is becoming unsurprising for an offensive line that surrendered 10 sacks last week against Stanford.
“A part of it’s effort, and some of it borders on cowardice,” Leach said. “Our five couldn’t whip their two. Sometimes they brought two. Our five couldn’t whip two. If five of our guys went in an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s just ridiculously inexcusable. It was one of the most heartless efforts I’ve ever seen, and our D-line wasn’t any better.”
That’s why both units, in a bizarre, awkward postgame display, were made to sit on a tiny podium and answer questions.
“It comes down to individual effort,” said senior right tackle Wade Jacobson. “Everybody needs to want to win, want to play, just worry about ourselves. I think we went out there and worried too much about other people’s jobs.”
Said center Elliott Bosch: “We come out prepared to succeed right off the bat and not have to face adversity. We just played too slow, we thought too much and we just need to go out and play.”
Then it was the defensive line’s turn. Dejectedly, a foursome of Logan Mayes, Xavier Cooper, Ioane Gauta and Travis Long tried to explain how Utes running back John White gashed them for 101 yards on 18 carries. How a freshman quarterback completed 17 of 21 passes against them. How they missed so many tackles one week after shutting down Stanford.
“Part of it’s lack of effort and doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” said Long, who recorded his first career interception in between Utah touchdowns. “Those two things combined.”
Long is the best player in another senior class that will finish their careers without a bowl appearance.
“I’m not happy,” Long said. “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”
And with that, he was out of his chair and out the door, leaving Mayes, Cooper and Gauta to speak for the group.
But by then, there was nothing left to say.