Offensive woes result in Rocky Mountain low

THE COUGARS' SEASON-OPENING debacle in Provo was aptly summed up as being a game with a "really thin line between success and failure." Go figure – one wouldn't expect a 30-6 drubbing by Brigham Young in which Washington State didn't score a single touchdown to evoke the word "thin."

Yet radio color commentator Shawn McWashington's comment was spot-on, especially when you consider that the Cougars had two near-misses that could have made the game a lot more competitive – BYU was favored by 13 ½ points – or even better, swung the momentum their way.

"The game was what you would expect from an early-season game," McWashington added.

What wasn't expected was that WSU's offense would leave LaVell Edwards Stadium with negative-five rushing yards.

Yes, negative-five.

Mike Leach's famed Air Raid attack crash landed as quarterback Jeff Tuel threw for an anemic 229 yards on 30-of-45 passing and was sacked three times. It was the first time since 1971 that WSU has not scored a touchdown in its season opener.

THE COUGARS AMASSED just 224 yards of total offense to BYU's 426.

"We make plays and we can be explosive," Leach said in a post-game radio interview. "We just never got to the point where we could do it consistently."

Still, Leach's crimson coming-out party got off to a promising start as WSU held the home-team Cougars to two first downs on their opening possession and then took over at its own 20. Tuel hit redshirt freshman Dominique Williams for 20 yards and then connected with standout junior Marquess Wilson for another 13 yards on a diving catch. Tuel's next pass, a short one, was intercepted by BYU linebacker Uona Kaveinga, and the blue-clad Cougars scored on the ensuing drive.

BYU forced the Cougars to punt and then went up by 14 on a 71-yard drive that highlighted WSU's defensive problems with third-down conversions. On his first collegiate pass, BYU third-string quarterback Taysom Hill connected with tight end Kaneakua Friel on fourth-and-one at the WSU 18.

"Any time we were about to ignite or something was about to happen, it would backfire," Leach said.

Tuel's woes continued in the second half, when, after finding Wilson for a 16-yard completion on The Opening drive, he was intercepted again, by Jordan Johnson, on the ensuing play.

"They pretty much did what we were expecting," Tuel said after the game.

While Tuel told the Spokesman-Review after the game that his play was "inconsistent at times," he credited his teammates for helping him try to acclimate in the first half as he scrambled to find open receivers, picked up first downs and then lost momentum.

"The offensive line did a great job with giving me time," he said.

UNFORTUNATELY, IT WASN'T enough. BYU starting quarterback Riley Nelson finished 25-of-36 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, while Friel had six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

If it wasn't for a pair of second-quarter field goals by Andrew Furney, from 47 and 41 yards, respectively, the crimson Cougars would have been shut out. The latter came after a holding penalty nullified Wilson's soaring catch in the end zone.

"We squandered too many plays," Leach said after the game. "We'd get a play or two going that was pretty good and then we'd squander two more and never really got into a rhythm."

Asked whether he was more surprised or disappointed about the offense's performance, Leach said he was "a little of both."

"I was surprised and obviously I was disappointed," he said.

BYU also benefited from long drives – its trio of first-half scoring drives were all 10 plays or longer. The third, capped by a 28-yard field goal by Riley Stephenson, was 16 plays.

"The biggest thing BYU did was they had context to their plays," Leach said. "It was like, ‘OK, we need a big play now' and they rose up and got a good play."

  • Thursday's loss was the first time a Leach team has not scored a touchdown since Texas Tech's 12-3 loss to TCU on Sept. 16, 2006, and only the third time of his coaching career.

  • Freshman safety Taylor Taliulu said that while he needs to get better "at a lot of things," he enjoyed his first college game.

    "It was really exciting out there," he said. "I was getting into it with the crowd."

  • Dominique Williams' 20-yard catch in the first quarter was the first of his college career.

  • Senior linebacker Travis Long had nine tackles, two for loss, and a sack.

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