Cougars' loss can be pinned on two plays

THE OLD ADAGE is one play never determines the outcome of a game. But Washington State players could argue that two plays were enough to shift Saturday's outcome, 24-17, in favor of No. 19 Stanford. And neither was related to the final possession of the game when the Cougars drove down to the Cardinal 9-yard line before a grounding penalty and sack thwarted their comeback hopes.

The first came during The Opening half when WSU (2-6 overall, 0-5 conference) finally developed some offensive rhythm early in the second quarter when senior quarterback Jeff Tuel, who completed 43 of 60 passes for a career-high 401 yards, finished an 11-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Dominique Williams. That gave the Cougars a 7-3 lead.

And momentum.

WSU held standout running back Stepfan Taylor to just 58 yards on 21 carries and quarterback Josh Nunes completed only 7 of 15 passes for 136 yards.

"It was kind of getting slow because we were prepared for that," WSU junior linebacker Justin Sagote said during a postgame radio interview. "We just took the running back out and we made the quarterback throw the ball."

That became a problem on the ensuing series when Nunes found Jamal-Rashad Patterson wide open down the left sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.

It was one of the few breakdowns the Cougars' defense, which surrendered 256 yards of total offense, allowed. The other came during the third quarter – with the game tied, 10-all – when WSU was called for pass interference on a Nunes incompletion on third-and-7 at the Cougars' 25. That enabled Stanford to later score on a 1-yard run by Ryan Hewitt.

"The best drive Stanford had was the one that opened the second half," Leach said. "That was unfortunate. We should've stopped that."

But the defense played well enough for WSU to win. The Cougars could not overcome some of their offensive challenges. They struggled to move the ball during the first quarter as Tuel faced relentless pressure – he was sacked 10 times – and without true freshman running back Teondray Caldwell, who was injured Oct. 13 against California, there is no semblance of a running game.

They also struggled when it matter the most. As radio analyst and former WSU standout Shawn McWashington said, it seems that the Cougars perform best when the scoreboard is not a factor.

Down by just a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Tuel threw an interception that safety Ed Reynolds returned for a 25-yard touchdown. That gave the Cardinal a 24-10 lead.

With their upset hopes seemingly crushed, the Cougars responded with a 12-play drive that culminated with a 10-yard Tuel touchdown pass to sophomore Kristoff Williams.

WSU's defense forced Stanford to punt on the following series, which gave the Cougars 80 yards to drive with 3:37 left. Behind a 42-yard reception by junior Marquess Wilson, who finished with 100 yards on a game-high nine receptions, and a 25-yard catch by Bobby Ratliff on fourth-and-23, WSU appeared poised send the game into overtime.

"I was thinking, ‘We got this,' " said Dominique Williams, who finished with 79 yards on six receptions. "We put ourselves in a good situation."

They just did not finish.

"I signaled something to Marquess," said Tuel, referring to the game-ending sack. "We weren't on the same page."

Leach said that is part of the problem.

"The truth of the matter is we beat them everywhere but the scoreboard," he said. "They're a more mature team and they showed it today."

Pending the results of a couple of late games, the Cougars' final four opponents have a combined 16-14 record.

"We can play with anyone in this conference," Tuel said. "It's time we start believing that."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: Tuel's interception that was returned for a touchdown gave the Cardinal a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. That is significant deficit for an erratic offense.

CATCH OF THE GAME: WSU had several impressive grabs, but none were more significant than Ratliff's, which put the team in position to tie the game.

STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars allowed 10 sacks.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: WSU outgained Stanford 385-256, but crucial mistakes kept the Cougars from dominating -- and winning.

LEADING TACKLERS: Junior safety Deone Bucannon had 10 stops, while redshirt freshman linebacker Darryl Monroe added eight.

NEXT GAME: WSU plays at noon Saturday at Utah.

Cougfan Top Stories