Washington St seeking to become bowl eligible

NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) -- Washington State has not been to a bowl game in a decade, but the Cougars will become eligible if they beat Utah on Saturday.

While coaches and players are trying to downplay the significance of qualifying for a bowl, there is no doubt it would be a major sign that Washington State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) is done with a decade of losing.

''It would be huge,'' said safety Deone Bucannon.

But coach Mike Leach, who never missed a bowl game in 10 seasons at Texas Tech, doesn't want his players to focus on the postseason. The Cougars need to focus on winning their final two games against Utah and archrival Washington, Leach said.

If they qualify for a bowl, ''it would mean that we did a very good job on the very next play and then on the play after that, and the play after that, and the play after that until pretty soon it adds up to a game's worth of plays,'' Leach said.

Washington State last played in a bowl game in 2003, which also was the Cougars' last winning season. This is the first time they have won five games since 2007.

Utah (4-6, 1-6) also still has hopes of making a bowl. But those hopes suffered a blow when starting quarterback Travis Wilson was lost for the season after suffering a concussion against Arizona State on Nov. 9.

Adam Schulz, a former walk-on, will get his second start. Behind Schulz is true freshman Conner Manning.

''We didn't tweak much in the offense for Adam,'' said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. ''He's got a strong arm, that's his strong suit, the way he throws the football. He is a capable runner.''

But Schulz was just 13 of 30 for 181 yards in last weekend's 44-21 loss at Oregon. He threw one touchdown and one interception.

''I was proud of the way Adam Schulz came in in a very difficult situation,'' Whittingham said. ''I thought he handled it well.''

Leach was impressed by the fact that Schulz survived the brutal process of moving from walk-on to starter.

''I think it's really impressive because that's kind of a tough road,'' Leach said. ''Around here we cut 200 walk-ons a year.''

Washington State features the second-best pass attack in the Pac-12, averaging 360 yards per game.

Utah leads the series with Washington State 7-5 and is 4-1 in Pullman, including an overtime victory the last time they met in the Palouse in 2011.

Five things to watch in Saturday's game:

CONNOR HALLIDAY: WSU QB Connor Halliday is having a big season. So far he has thrown for 3,417 yards, and his 535 attempts and 341 completions are team records for one season. He is spreading the ball around, as at least 10 different receivers caught a pass nine times in 10 games this season. ''We expect anywhere from 50-80 throws,'' Whittingham said. ''That's what they do and who they are.''

BYU BOYS: Leach and Whittingham both attended BYU at the same time, but did not know each other there. ''He was an All-American linebacker and led the nation in tackles and his dad, who was the (defensive coordinator) at that time, was tougher than he was,'' Leach said.

UTAH DEFENSE: The Utes held Oregon to 145 yards rushing last weekend, well below the Ducks' average of 301 yards rushing per game. Utah leads the Pac-12 in sacks (36) and sacks per game (3.60).

THANKSGIVING BREAK: There is a concern that many Washington State students will skip the game and head home for Thanksgiving break. ''I love our fans,'' Deone Bucannon said. ''I would love them to be there. But we're going to play either way.''

LEACH UNLEASHED: Last season, Utah crushed Washington State 49-6. An angry Leach said afterward that his team's performance resembled a zombie convention. He also said the play of his offensive and defensive lines ''bordered on cowardice.''

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