Hercules Dominates the Utes as Wazzu Holds on in a thriller!

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Washington State defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa celebrates with Washington State defensive lineman Nnamdi Oguayo after recovering a fumble by Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Hercules Dominates the Utes as Wazzu Holds on in a thriller!

Washington State faced an always tough opponent on Saturday afternoon in the Utah Utes. This time, WSU had to face them on the road in Utah. The Cougs went into the game knowing that this wasn’t any easy win, but a must win game if they wanted to win the Pac-12 north. If they were to go 9-2 going into the bye week, they were going to have to slow down Utah’s young but rising star QB Tyler Huntley.

In the first quarter, the “Speed D” came out “en fuego”, as they forced 3 first quarter turnovers. Unfortunately, the Cougars could only convert them into 13 points. Normally, this would be considered a good thing, but this was the Utah Utes they were playing, a team that consistently had a great defense, and were always tough at home. Washington State knew that they would need to have to put up many more points than that to come out on top.

Utah came back vigorously against a lethargic WSU offense as they out played the Cougs in the 2nd quarter. WSU went into the half with a 20-10 lead only because the “Speed D” kept them in the lead with their constant pressure on Tyler Huntley. Tyler Huntley made key plays, but he also made a lot of errors, a big reason because of Hercules! Hercules secured 3 sacks and 4 tackles for losses in the first half alone.
The 2nd half was the same. In the 3rd quarter, WSU scored a measly 2 field goals as they extended their lead to 26-10. The problem was, they couldn’t move the ball. Luke Falk looked lost, thankfully the “Speed D” held their own against the Utes as the Cougs went into the 4th quarter leading 26-10.

In the 4th quarter, the “Speed D” tired out as they gave up a big chunk of change in yardage. Utah cut the lead to 26-18. Wazzu’s offense continued to have issues as they couldn’t move the ball. The “Speed D” forced a fumble due to Hercules presence which lead to a quick score for the Air Raid. As WSU started to feel comfortable with a 33-18 lead as the 4th quarter was winding down, the Utah Utes quickly changed the momentum as they drove the field in 2 minutes cutting the lead to 33-25. Coug fans were getting that feeling, wondering if they were going to “Coug it”. Wazzu began a drive but Luke Falk threw his 2nd pick of the game.

Utah started a drive of their own, but Tyler Huntley threw his 3rd pick of the game as time was winding down. Again, the Cougs couldn’t move the ball as they had to punt the ball away knowing they would have to come up with a key stop. Tyler Huntley quickly moved the ball down the field, including a 32-yard scamper when the tired “Speed D” thought they had him. With 7 seconds left on the clock, at the Wazzu 46-yard line, they tried for a Hail-Mary pass which lead to the 4th interception of the game for the “Speed D” as time ran off the clock. Washington State had the victory as they ran their record to 9-2 and they took control of the Pac-12 north as they went into their bye week before their Apple Cup showdown versus the Washington Huskies on November 25th.

Here are 3 observations I had on the game:

1. Does Hercules Mata’afa deserve consideration for defensive player of the year?

He certainly does. He has had a record breaking year. Against Utah he had 3 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, he forced one fumble which he recovered himself and just his constant pressure lead to Utah’s Tyler Huntley making other mistakes. He’s tied for 4th in tackles on the team, has 21.5 tackles for losses and 9.5 sacks. He has 2 forced fumbles and has caused every other teams offense to alter their game plans at half time. Hercules is the real-deal and he’s only a Junior. He is a true warrior and the leader of this ferocious “Speed D”.

2. How come Luke Falk has problems on the road?

I don’t know what the reason is, but Luke Falk looks lost on the road this season. What is going on in his mind, nobody knows, but he has 2 possibly 3 of his biggest games of his college career ahead of him. Now is the time to shine Luke Falk. Now is the time to focus. Saturday against Utah he completed 40 passes out of 69 attempts for only 311 yards with a quarterback rating of 48.1. He could not move the ball at all whether it was by the pass or the run. The “Speed D” won the ballgame for Luke and his “Air Raid” offense with their 7 takeaways giving the Cougars numerous chances and holding Utah when they did. The only highlight of the game was when Luke threw a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter to become the all-time Pac-12 leader in touchdown passes with 117. Hats off to you “Cool Hand Luke” Falk.


3. Did we see the emergence of the next great wide receiver at Washington State?

We truly did. Tavares Martin Jr. had a breakout game. He ended up with 10 catches for 64 yards and 1 touchdown. Luke Falk spread the ball around once again to 9 different receivers, but Tavares Martin Jr. was the man who rose to the occasion. He was the go to guy when Luke needed him most. We have waited for this all season, and Saturday against Utah, Tavares Martin Jr. became a breakout star. On the season he has 65 catches for 769 yards and 9 touchdowns. Cougar nation has found a diamond in the rough Tavares Martin Jr. Keep up the great job!

Washington State goes to 9-2 going to the bye week before facing the University of Washington for the Apple Cup and a chance for the Pac-12 North title. This year’s game should be different because of Wazzu’s “Speed D”. If the 15th ranked Cougs are to compete against the Dawgs, Luke Falk needs to show up and play a focused game. We need to see that emotion from him like we did at times this season. The game is Saturday November 25th, time and channel pending. Even though it’s a holiday weekend, Cougar Nation we need to be watching and cheering on our boys from across the nation. It should be an epic Apple Cup, I know I will be watching!

Go Cougs!


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