Two-minute drill: Cougs scorched by Devils

THERE ARE MANY haunting words that could be applied to Washington State's 55-21 loss against Arizona State on Halloween at Martin Stadium. But the scariest had to do with the Cougars' bowl aspirations . After being dominated in nearly every aspect of the game, WSU (4-5 overall, 2-4 Pac-12) must win two of their final three regular season games to be eligible for postseason play.

With WSU trailing 14-0, sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks fumbled an 18-yard reception, which was recovered by ASU's Robert Nelson at the Cougars' 39. That turnover translated into an 11-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Jaelen Strong. An honorable mention to go to with that play occurred when senior defensive back Anthony Carpenter forced running back Deantre Lewis into a fumble, which was recovered by senior nose tackle Ioane Gauta at the Cougars' 36-yard line as they trailed 21-7. But instead of making it a one-score game, WSU went three-and-out and the Sun Devils scored a touchdown on their next possession.

It was a forgettable game for the defense, arguably their fifth in a row, as ASU produced 557 yards of total offense. Here are a few highlights:

  • Junior nose tackle Toni Pole sacked Taylor Kelly on third-and-11 to force ASU to punt on its first possession of the third quarter.

  • Sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe broke up a third-down pass by Kelly that forced the Sun Devils to put on their second third-quarter possession. Unfortunately for the Cougars, ASU successfully executed a fake punt.

  • Senior safety Deone Bucannon intercepted Taylor Kelly early in the fourth quarter. But the turnover did not translate into any points as junior quarterback Connor Halliday threw an interception.

    Marks took a quick slant from junior quarterback Connor Halliday, made multiple defenders miss and raced 34 yards into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter. That closed the gap to 21-7 and gave the Cougs some short-lived hope.

    Several media outlets played up ASU's struggles in cold weather and the Sun Devils' 37-27 loss in 2011 at Martin Stadium. None of that mattered a bit on Thursday night as ASU jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.

    True freshman wide receiver River Cracraft had 78 yards on four receptions. Cracraft was sure-handed and accumulated yards after several catches.

    ASU converted 6 of 13 third-down possessions, while WSU was 6 of 16. But much of the Cougars' success in that statistic came after the game was out of reach -- ASU was 6-of-7 at one point in the second half.

    ASU scored touchdowns on three of its four possessions. They started those drives on their own 33 and then WSU's 36 and 39. Explosion plays by the Cougar receivers this season have been few and far between. Senior Vince Mayle and sophomore Dom Williams show that ability on occasion, but not consistently - but they haven't gotten a lot of opportunities either. What it means most is that Halliday and the offense need to execute the Air Raid. Simply put, that is taking what the defense provides. WSU again failed to do that as its receivers dropped passes on their way to three-and-out on their first three possessions. On the fourth, Marks fumbled away a first down and gave ASU prime field position to score. Couple that with sometimes shoddy protection and WSU consistently put its defense in a difficult position. And, as that unit has proven recently, it was too much to overcome. The Cougars' tackling was atrocious, particularly during the first half as Kelly, running back Marion Grice and multiple receivers broke several tackles. The officiating crew did not directly impact the game, but had a moment where they reminded everyone why Pac-12 referees often are maligned. There are many critics of the targeting rule because it is difficult – perhaps even impossible – for an official to determine intent at game speed. That came into play with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the first half when sophomore safety Taylor Taliulu applied a hit in the end zone that initially looked like a helmet-to-helmet blow. But replay showed that was not the case as Taliulu's hit was to the shoulder, which led the color commentator on ESPN to say the penalty should be overturned. Instead, it was enforced and Taliulu was ejected. It was the latest example of why the well-intentioned rule needs to be overhauled during the offseason.

    ASU, by a mile. The Sun Devils successfully converted TWO fake punts during the second half. The first particularly was damaging as the Cougars forced a three-and-out after cutting their deficit to 42-21. Allowing two successful fake punts in one game is an inexcusable lack of attention. Beyond that, the WSU punting was inconsistent, the kickoff return unit, despite some short kicks, couldn't bring it out to the 25 and the coverage units were so-so. On a night went a lot went wrong on offense and defense, the special teams for the Cougs was right there along with them.

    After a bye week, WSU plays Nov. 16 at Arizona.

    ASU 7-0
    9:44: Taylor Kelly 7-yard touchdown run.
    ASU 14-0
    5:34: Kelly 6-yard touchdown run.
    ASU 21-0
    3:20: Jaelen Strong 11-yard pass from Kelly.
    ASU 21-7
    14:51: Gabe Marks 34-yard pass from Connor Halliday. Key play: On third-and-11 at WSU's 40-yard line, Halliday found senior Vince Mayle along the left sideline for a 12-yard gain.
    ASU 28-7
    7:49: D.J. Foster 7-yard pass from Kelly.
    ASU 35-7
    6:22: Richard Smith 51-yard pass from Kelly.
    ASU 42-7
    1:40: Chris Coyle 8-yard pass from Kelly.
    ASU 42-14
    0:20: Rickey Galvin 15-yard pass from Halliday.
    ASU 42-21
    10:32: Jeremiah Laufasa scores on a 4-yard run. Key play: True freshman River Cracraft caught a 35-yard pass from Halliday and recovered his fumble after being hit by Carl Bradford to give the Cougars first-and-goal.
    ASU 49-21
    10:32: Foster 23-yard pass from Kelly.
    ASU 52-21
    14:51: Zane Gonzalez 37-yard field goal.
    ASU 55-21
    5:49: Gonzalez 36-yard field goal.

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