Cougs: 'We let one get away'

AUBURN, Ala. – No doubt there were plenty of college football pundits and fans who were surprised to see Washington State drop their season opener by just seven points Saturday night at Auburn. WSU players were surprised, too. Surprised they didn't win, that is.

"I feel like nine out of 10 times they couldn't beat us," safety Deone Bucannon said after the Cougars dropped their season opener, 31-24, at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Auburn is a great opponent," linebacker Darryl Monroe said. "They played hard. I felt that we let one get away."

The Cougars opened the game by marching down the field to score a touchdown, and they led two other times in the first half. However, the Tigers held on to win despite coming up on the short end of most statistical comparisons.

"I'm really proud of the effort," Mike Leach said. "I thought we had great effort."

"We showed improvement," wide receiver Gabe Marks said, "but we still lost the game. We should have won that game."

"I think everyone would agree we're much improved from last year," running back Jeremiah Laufasa said.

WSU ground game and o-line: The Cougars' offensive line and running attack were dismal last year -- but that was last year. Both earned praise Saturday.

"That running game was something very, very special," Halliday said.

"All the running backs were just talking about how we felt the offensive line was much improved and opened up huge holes for us," Laufasa said.

The Cougars ran for 120 yards, and Halliday was sacked only twice. In addition to opening running lanes, on the vast majority of pass plays - and even when Auburn blitzed - the Cougar starting o-line of RT Rico Forbes, RG John Fullington, C Elliott Bosch, LG Joe Dahl and LT Gunnar Eklund provided a well-defined pocket for Halliday to operate from.

Last year, WSU ranked last in the nation in rushing attempts, rushing yards and sacks allowed. But there was little on Saturday that called to mind the 2012 campaign when it came to o-line.

Laufasa shines: Laufasa qualifies as one of the most improved Cougars. The sophomore walk-on, a short-yardage specialist who scored on two short touchdown runs Saturday, redshirted at WSU last season after transferring from NCAA Division II Central Washington.

Laufasa starred at Juanita High in Kirkland, then saw limited duty on a partial scholarship at Central two years ago. He decided to transfer to WSU after receiving a call from older brother Corey, a reserve linebacker on the Cougars in 2011-12.

"He was just talking to me: ‘I know you love football,'" Laufasa recalled. "'With all due respect to Central Washington, why ‘settle' when there's a higher level? If you're going to play football, play it at the highest level and challenge yourself.'"

Laufasa acknowledged that "it was exciting" to score a pair of touchdowns in his WSU debut, but he was quick to add, "I'd trade them for the win."

Halliday frustrated: Connor Halliday racked up 344 passing yards and came within one of Drew Bledsoe's school record of 66 pass attempts in a game, but he bemoaned his three interceptions.

"It's frustrating," he said, "because it's on my shoulders, turning the ball over."

Leach said Halliday was guilty of "just trying to make too much happen." That has been a problem at Halliday his college career, though he also makes plenty of excellent passes, as he did Saturday.

"He checked at the line really well," Leach said.

"He did great," Marks said. "We were moving the ball up and down the field at will."

Halladay tied Jason Gesser and Timm Rosenbach for third in WSU history with his sixth career 300-yard passing game. Halladay forced some passes, but showed a much greater grasp of Leach's offense than last year, when he did not take advantage of the many short, safe passes that are an integral part of the offense.

Bucannon stars: Bucannon, continuing to climb the all-time tackles chart at WSU, led players on both teams with 14 tackles (12 solo). He also forced a fumble and recovered one.

"Coaches did a great job of preparing us for this game," Bucannon said.

"I thought our defense played well," Leach said. "I thought our defensive scheme was good."

The Tigers totaled 396 yards, including 297 on the ground. The Cougs gave up the big play on Saturday -- the Wazzu D gave up a 75-yard run on a simple stretch play and the kickoff unit surrendered a 100-yard retuen. Those two plays accounted for 14 of Auburn's points.

Halliday wasn't all that impressed with highly touted Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who missed badly on several passes and finished with 99 yards passing on 10-for-19 efficiency.

"They run the ball real, real, real well," Halliday said. "If they could find a quarterback, they'd be a top five team in the nation. They just don't have a guy who can throw it."

  • Starting cornerback Nolan Washington missed the second half with an undisclosed injury. Senior Anthony Carpenter and true freshman Daquawn Brown played in his stead.

  • WSU's only points in the second half came on Andrew Furney's 43-yard field goal in the third quarter. Furney tied Rian Lindell for fourth in WSU history with 32 career field goals.

  • The Cougars made $1.15 million for playing Auburn on the road. The paycheck, and the crowd of 85,095, rank among the best in WSU history.

  • WSU players said the loud crowd and the humidity were not major factors in the game.

  • Auburn has won seven straight home openers. The Cougars have dropped their first road game of the season eight straight years, starting with a 40-14 loss in 2006 in their only previous trip to Auburn.

  • The WSU flag appeared on ESPN's "GameDay" program for the 131st show since the 2004 season. The long-standing tradition was born on the message boards of

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