Mistakes, opportunities not seized kill Cougs

THE PUNDITS HAD this one right. While unanimously -- and correctly -- predicting that No. 7 Stanford would defeat the Cougars in their homecoming game Saturday at Martin Stadium, the sentiment was that Washington State had an opportunity if it could force mistakes. That also was accurate, but the Cougars could not capitalize in a 44-14 loss.

That never was more apparent than during the opening play of the second half when senior Isiah Barton returned the kickoff 50 yards to midfield. It was a perfect opportunity for WSU (3-3 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) to seize an opportunity it never was able to during last week's loss at UCLA.

"That gave us an opportunity," sophomore guard John Fullington said in a postgame radio interview. "They're really talented and physical -- but we didn't execute."

Junior Jeff Tuel, who made his first start of the season after being sidelined with broken left clavicle Sept. 3 against Idaho State, never seemed comfortable. And for good reason -- he was under assault all night. Still, Tuel was inaccurate and never showed an ability to recognize pressure, which again, was constant as his team was dominated in the trenches.

Tuel, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 145 yards, looked like someone who had not played in six weeks.

"Somewhere along the line with Jeff, you've got to let him play and grow," said Wulff, when asked about any second guessing that might come from starting Tuel over senior Marshall Lobbestael. "When he's healthy, he's as good as there is out there."

It showed on the opening drive of the second half when Chase Thomas and Matthew Masifilo sacked Tuel for a 13-yard loss. In three plays, the Cougars lost 9 yards and were forced to punt.

They never recovered.

Top-10 teams simply do not squander too many opportunities. Not when they have Andrew Luck, a player every reputable analyst predicts will be the top pick in next spring's NFL Draft. Luck, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, recovered from a shaky first half. He threw 10- and 26-yard touchdown passes to tight end Levine Toilolo in the third quarter.

The Cardinal (6-0, 4-0), which scored 28 unanswered points in the second half, followed with Luck touchdown passes to running back Stepfan Taylor and tight end Coby Fleener.

It only ended when Lobbestael entered for the final drive of the game and guided the Cougars 91 yards. That possession culminated with a 1-yard keeper by Lobbestael with 14 seconds left in the game.

But for good measure, Ty Montgomery returned the kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown as time expired.

It was an exclamation point on a victory that extended Stanford's winning streak to 14 games. And it was a final reminder of how an inspired first half turned into a blowout loss for WSU, which was outgained 475 to 257 yards.

"We didn't execute good enough on offense," Wulff said. "The offense didn't give our defense enough help."

But it not only was a reflection of how many mistakes the Cougars made, but how many they allowed the Cardinal to get away with. WSU actually won the turnover battle 2-1 -- and it started early. The Cougars were unable to take advantage of an Andrew Luck interception -- just his third of the season -- on the third play of the game by sophomore cornerback Damante Horton.

Stanford, which scored on all 27 of its trips into the red zone entering the game, later was limited to a 23-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson to take a 3-0 lead.

The Cardinal then took advantage of a fumble by senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter, which was forced by Johnson Bademosi and recovered by Stanf Michael at their own 47-yard line. Seven plays later, Jeremy Stewart scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal to extend Stanford's lead to 10-0.

"Their offensive line is the best that we've come against this year," WSU junior defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi said. "They're physical. It definitely was a challenge for our defense."

It could have been a defining moment in the game, particularly with WSU going three-and-out on its next series. But true freshman Chester Sua, who made his first start in place of injured Sekope Kaufusi (arm), recovered a fumble at the Cardinal 40.

A 10-yard pass from junior Jeff Tuel to sophomore Marquess Wilson later put the Cougars into the red zone. A pair of pass interference calls helped them down to the Stanford 2. Junior running back Carl Winston took advantage of that as he scored to cut WSU's deficit to 10-7 at halftime.

The Cougars now have lost two consecutive games and face a critical test at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: Root Sports) when they face Oregon State (1-5, 1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

"I can't wait," Fullington said. "We have to flush this, and get some wins. A bowl game is our ultimate goal -- and we'll get there."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: WSU opened the second half with possession at midfield and trailing 10-7. But they could not take advantage of the opportunity and Stanford scored 28 unanswered points to end any upset hopes.

CATCH OF THE GAME: Senior Isiah Barton made a 31-yard catch down to the Stanford 9-yard line in the fourth quarter. But WSU was not able to score on that possession.

STAT OF THE GAME: Stanford had 336 passing yards as quarterback Andrew Luck seemingly had a flawless second half.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars actually had a 90-second advantage in time of possession, but it made little difference in the outcome.

LEADING TACKLERS: WSU sophomore safety Deone Bucannon had a game-high 11 tackles. Senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis had eight tackles, while junior safety Tyree Toomer added six.

NEXT GAME: The Cougars face Oregon State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field (TV: Root Sports).

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