Lack of playmakers apparent in Apple Cup loss

SEATTLE -- Patience. Washington State coach Paul Wulff long has maintained that the only way to restore the program and become a top-tier Pac-12 presence was through building a base of young talent. But if Saturday's 38-21 loss against Washington in the Apple Cup was any indication, WSU still has a ways to go. And it appears Wulff has run out of time in the process.

Most seem to acknowledge that the Cougars have made improvement during Wulff's fourth season as they improved from 2-10 last season to 4-7 this year. But the Apple Cup showed that WSU, which finished last in the Pac-12 North Division with a 2-7 conference record, still lacks offensive playmakers.

"We've got to continue to work there," Wulff said.

Specifically, he was referring to the Cougars' running game. Against the Huskies (7-5 overall, 5-4 Pac-12), WSU managed just 1.3 yards per carry. Even accounting for senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who lost 35 yards on nine carries, the Cougars averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.

"We've got a couple of really young guys," said Wulff, referring to freshmen Rickey Galvin and Marcus Mason. "I think those two guys are going to be really good players, and we have a couple of recruits we're really high on."

But with little consistency in the running game, WSU was forced to rely on Lobbestael recreating the performance of quarterback Alex Brink in the 2007 Apple Cup, where he frequently found wide receivers Michael Bumpus, Charles Dillon and Brandon Gibson en route to 399 passing yards and a 42-35 win at Husky Stadium.

The Cougars' latest group of receivers, notably senior Jared Karstetter and sophomore Marquess Wilson, who had 108 yards on seven receptions, showed promise at times. After Keith Price found running back Chris Polk for a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter, WSU followed with a 38-yard scoring pass from Lobbestael to Wilson to cut the Cougars' deficit to 28-21 with 1:14 left in the third quarter.

But against a defense that entered the game ranked 97th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with an average of 430.4 yards allowed per game, that was all that the Cougars, who produced 382 yards of total offense, could do.

WSU went three-and-out on its next drive and watched the Huskies extend their lead to 31-21 on a 46-yard field goal by Erik Folk early in the fourth quarter.

THE COUGARS ONLY managed one first down -- a 22-yard reception by Wilson -- on their next drive, but the defense responded by forcing UW to punt.

That again left WSU in ideal position to capitalize with its possession starting at its own 47. But two plays later, Lobbestael received his pitch back and hurdled it downfield to Wilson. He was intercepted by safety Sean Parker.

"I just misjudged the ball," Wilson said. "It was up in the air for a long time and I thought I was going to be able to make a play on it. (Parker) just got on top of me, so it made it tough for me to jump off the ground. It was my fault."

It was one of multiple breakdowns on the play.

"It was executed really well," WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. "We got the ball back to the quarterback -- he got a lineman out in front of him -- but we didn't have our third receiver to throw it to."

That was redshirt freshman Kristoff Williams.

"Kristoff got held up," Sturdy said. "We've worked that play the entire year. He got grabbed and fell down or something."

UW then used an eight-play drive that was capped with a 1-yard touchdown run by Polk with just 5:23 remaining.

THE BUSTED TRICK PLAY was not the only second-guessing that occurred afterward. On the opening possession of the second half, Lobbestael found redshirt freshman wide receiver Bobby Ratliff for a 7-yard completion to set up third-and-1 at the Huskies' 46. Sturdy eschewed the run for a bootleg, where Lobbestael, who completed 29 of 42 passes for 344 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, threw an incompletion.

"It was a game-plan thing," said Sturdy, who did not elaborate.

Wulff then elected to punt on fourth down.

"The field position wasn't great and I thought there was enough time on the clock," he said. "We would have given them good field position if we hadn't."

The Cougars spotted UW an early touchdown on another special-teams gaffe when senior punter Dan Wagner was blocked by Thomas Tutogi and recovered by Jesse Callier for a 2-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead.

WSU rarely looked in sync early on. An offsides penalty against senior defensive tackle Brandon Rankin allowed UW to start its final drive of the opening quarter at midfield. Callier then had a 30-yard run on the ensuing down. Three plays later, Price found wide receiver Kasen Williams on a fade into the right side of the end zone to give the Huskies a 14-0 lead.

"I think the crowd noise and the blocked punt was big," Wulff said. "We needed to settle down. Marshall needed to settle down."

The Cougars' opening-quarter woes continued on their next drive. Right after true freshman Marcus Mason took a 27-yard run down to the Huskies' 23-yard line, Rickey Galvin lost a fumble on the next play.

But UW could not capitalize.

After driving down to the WSU 18, Erik Folk missed a 37-yard field goal.

Lobbestael took advantage with consecutive touchdown drives that culminated in 16-yard touchdown passes to Karstetter and Wilson.

"We were all amped up," Wilson said. "It's a great feeling to tie the game back up and know we had a shot to get back into the game and win it."

But buoyed by a short kickoff that gave the Huskies possession at their own 39, they built an eight-play drive that culminated with a 21-yard pass from Price to Williams to give UW a 21-14 lead with just 24 seconds remaining in the first half.

Some of the Cougars' execution problems were the result of an offensive line that surrendered seven sacks. WSU had just one sack.

"They caught us on a couple of pressures," Sturdy said. "One of the drives we took a sack on first down when we had maximum protection going. We had too many third-and-longs."

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR Bill Moos announced during the week that a decision on Wulff's future likely will come Monday or Tuesday. Reports, including one from The Seattle Times, surfaced after the game that Wulff likely will be dismissed after compiling a 9-40 record since being hired in December 2007 from Eastern Washington.

"I just want to say this is a young football team," Wulff said. "We've done a hell of a job recruiting kids, and the football program has a bright future. That's my job, and I've been doing it.

"We're right on the cusp of being very good. Not a lot of teams can go through three quarterbacks in a season and (possibly be) bowl eligible going into the last game. The quarterback situation is such a key role for any football team."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: Lobbestael's fourth-quarter interception came with WSU down 31-21. The Huskies responded with a touchdown that essentially put the game out of reach.

CATCH OF THE GAME: Wilson eluded several defenders for a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

STAT OF THE GAME: Wilson had 108 yards and two touchdowns and seven receptions.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars held possession for 32:38, but never were in control.

LEADING TACKLERS: Sophomore safety Deone Bucannon lead WSU with nine tackles, while senior linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood added eight each.

Cougfan Top Stories