Cougs defy the odds, stay in the game

AN OLD ADAGE -- everything is bigger in Texas. But on this Saturday, at least, that wasn't true for Washington State. The Cougs' margin of defeat was the narrowest in almost a year, sparking some hope they might hang in there against conference opponents. Granted, SMU is no Alabama. But given the depths of crimson despair, a game that was still a game in the fourth quarter was something to enjoy.

And sure, Southern Methodist hadn't beaten a BCS school in a decade.

Still, progress is progress. Besides, SMU was a bowl team last year.

And after all, the Cougars were listed as 23 1/2-point underdogs heading into Ford Stadium.

But en route to a 35-21 loss, they never turned the ball over despite being outgained 420 yards to 350. They didn't incur any significant injuries. They scored a TD in the first quarter -- something that hadn't happened in 22 months.

And their 21 points were the most scored on the road since a 42-35 win at Washington in November 2007.

"We did some things today that we haven't been able to do," said WSU coach Paul Wulff in a postgame interview. "We've got to keep making steps."

THE MUSTANGS GOT off to a fast start with quarterback Kyle Padron's 13-yard touchdown run on their opening drive.

The Cougars took some time to get their footing, but came up with a 4-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel to junior wide receiver Jared Karstetter with 54 seconds left in the first quarter.

"The offense did a lot of good things," said Tuel, who completed 18 of 33 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns. "We broke the spell of the first-play turnover."

The Mustangs reclaimed the lead with 3:30 left in the second quarter on a 67-yard pass from Padron to Aldrick Robinson, who finished the game with 111 yards and three touchdowns on four passes.

The Cougars tied the game at 14 just before halftime after SMU wide receiver Darius Johnson fumbled a punt at the Mustangs' 10-yard line and sophomore safety Kyle McCartney recovered it in the end zone.

Had a false-start penalty not negated senior kicker Nico Grasu's field goal earlier in the quarter, WSU would have led 17-14.

THINGS LOOKED HOPEFUL as the second half began, but, as Wulff said, "they had a 7-minute-plus drive in the third quarter. They did a nice job of eating up the clock."

That 12-play, 73-yard drive culminated in a 10-yard pass to Johnson that gave SMU a 21-14 lead with 5:01 left. Less than three minutes later, Padron hit Robinson for a 16-yard touchdown reception.

"We just let them march down the field," Tuel said. "In the third quarter, we just came out flat. It was too late by the time we got things going again."

Senior linebacker Hallston Higgins, who hails from Houston, agreed, saying the Cougars need to work on tackling to avoid such situations.

"There we a few times we had (Padron) wrapped up and he got away," he said.

THINGS, TOO, LOOKED bleak in the fourth quarter, when the Cougars twice drove inside the SMU 30 but failed to score. Tuel threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-7 from the Mustangs' 26 with 12:35 left. The Mustangs broke up a pass in the end zone on 4th-and-20 from the SMU 25 with 6:24 left.

And then came Padron's 10-yard touchdown pass to Robinson to put SMU up 35-14 with 2:08 remaining.

But the Cougars weren't going down without a fight.

Tuel connected with freshman wide receiver Marquess Wilson on the first play of their next possession for a 68-yard touchdown with 1:50 left. That brought the score to its final of 35-21.

"I think that we move the ball well," Karstetter said after the game. "We just need to finish."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Southern Methodist's last win against a BCS school came on Sept. 2, 2000, when it defeated Kansas 31-17. SMU had 17 lost consecutive games against BCS schools.

  • WSU has lost 11 consecutive games against Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Its last win versus an FBS team came during a 30-27 overtime victory on Sept. 19, 2009 against SMU.


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