Leach: Cougs 'deprive' themselves of success

LOW POINT. That seems to be a moving target when it comes to Washington State's football program the last five years. But when quarterback Jordan Webb scrambled for a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to propel previously winless Colorado to a 35-34 win before a homecoming crowd at Martin Stadium, it felt like it could rival any of the setbacks suffered by the Cougars in recent years.

After all, the Buffaloes were coming off a 55-point loss at Fresno State and were regarded by some as a contender for the worst team in conference history.

But WSU (2-2 overall, 0-1 Pac-12) seems to find a way to make the impossible happen. Against a team that seemingly ranked 100th or worse in just about every statistical category imaginable, the Cougars surrendered 531 yards of total offense.

"Disappointed," offensive lineman John Fullington said during a postgame radio interview. "I feel like my heart has been taken out."

The breakdowns were most apparent in the fourth quarter when Tony Jones broke an 84-yard run with 4:23 left to cut WSU's lead to 31-28.

"What this game came down to effort," WSU color commentator Shawn McWashington said. "Every time you get an advantage in life, you have to take it."

The Cougars never did that. Despite having favorable field position for nearly the entire game, including their final full drive, WSU was forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal by junior Andrew Furney.

Webb again drove the Buffs (1-3, 1-0) down field, but WSU appeared to have survived on second-and-goal when Christian Powell fumbled at the Cougars' 4-yard line. CU emerged from the skirmish with the ball and Webb scrambled into the end zone untouched two plays later.

COACH Mike Leach does not like to give away details. But unlike his favorite movies, this script is getting stale. WSU had numerous opportunities on both sides of the ball to put this game away early, but displayed frustrating inconsistency against a seemingly inferior opponent for a third consecutive week.

It appeared the Cougars finally might blowout an inferior opponent when sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday, who started for a second consecutive week, when he needed just six plays to find true freshman standout Gabe Marks for a 32-yard touchdown. Halliday completed 32 of 60 passes for 401 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

From there, it was a litany of mistakes on both sides of the ball that allowed the Buffaloes to stay close one week after losing 69-14 at Fresno State.

Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb, who entered the game completing just 50 percent of his passes, finished 29 of 42 for 345 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He had little difficulty moving the ball, including the first drive of the game when he used nine plays to find Nelson Spruce for a 16-yard touchdown.

After a promising second drive, Halliday forced a pass into coverage that was intercepted by Jered Bell. Halliday, who was sacked on the previous play, constantly was pressured. He was sacked six times.

That gave the Buffs an opportunity to take an early lead, but Will Oliver's 30-yard field goal attempt went wide right.

Halliday then threw 23- and 15-yard touchdown passes to Marquess Wilson and Isiah Myers to open the second quarter. That allowed WSU to take a 21-7 lead into the intermission.

"If we're ahead, we're soft," Leach said. "We sit around and enjoy the good life.

"Right now we have the mentality that we're going to deprive ourselves the ability to be successful. There's got to be a certain amount of pride to winning personal battles. We've got to get that changed."

One exception might be senior Travis Long, who constantly pressured Webb and had 2 1/2 sacks. But he was in the distinct minority.

"I thought we got complacent and didn't make the plays we needed to," Long said.

The most damaging sequence of the game actually might have occurred when Myers tried to do too much. After the defense was a three-and-out on CU's first possession of the second half, a long punt return nearly positioned WSU around the Buffs' 20. But Myers was flagged for running into the punter.

CU still could not score on that possession, but the penalty enabled the Buffs to pin the Cougars deep in their own territory. That led to a fumble by senior running back Carl Winston, which was returned by Terrel Smith to the Cougars' 1. Webb scored on a keeper on the ensuing play to cut CU's deficit to 21-14.

WSU missed another scoring opportunity when its next drive stalled at the Buffs' 36 after wide receivers Bennett Bontemps, Wilson and Ratliff dropped successive passes. Wilson, who had 99 yards on five receptions, dropped his pass in the end zone.

"If you want it bad enough, you're going to catch the ball," Wilson said. "That's the killer instinct."

The Cougars still could have displayed that when they scored 10 unanswered points on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to Wilson and a 45-yard Furney field goal. That gave them a 31-17 lead with 14:47 remaining in the game.

Instead, Halliday threw an interception after driving down to the Buffs' 19 and the defense responded by allowing Webb to throw a 70-yard touchdown to Nick Kasa and followed it with an 84-yard touchdown run by Tony Jones to close the deficit to 31-28.

WSU had a final opportunity to close out the game and win its second consecutive Pac-12 opener after defeating CU 31-27 last year. But the Cougars could not capitalize on a poor punt that placed them at the Buffs' 30 and settled for Furney's second field goal.

"During the second half, we had hiccups," Wilson said. "We've got to learn to make plays throughout the game."

Instead, Halliday was left to repeat a line that has become too familiar for WSU fans.

"We can't mope around about this," he said. "We have to flush it."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: Jones' 84-yard touchdown run with 4:23 left cut CU's deficit to 31-28 and permanently shifted the game's momentum.

CATCH OF THE GAME: Wilson's 49-yard touchdown in the third quarter came when he outraced a series of defenders.

STAT OF THE GAME: WSU allowed 531 yards of total offense against a team that has struggled to move the ball this season.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: Long runs by Jones and Christian Powell pushed the Buffs' average to 4.9 yards per carry. But outside of those two plays, WSU's defense did a solid job of shutting down the run.

LEADING TACKLERS: Safeties Deone Bucannon and Casey Locker each had 10 tackles, while Cyrus Coen, Long and Xavier Cooper all had seven stops.

NEXT GAME: The Cougars play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Oregon at CenturyLink Field. The game will be televised either on ESPN or ESPN2.

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