Revisiting WSU's special teams nightmares

PULLMAN— It seemed so easy. The Cougars simply had to punch the ball into the end zone from the California 2-yard line, or drill a 19-yard field goal, or not give up a kickoff return for score... twice. Ninety-nine times out of 100, or whatever other “sure thing” statistic you want to use, the scenario works. On Saturday night in Pullman, it was the one time that didn’t.

Kicker Quentin Breshears had already made a field goal from 42 yards away, and the one he missed to cost the Cougars the game should have been a piece of cake. Instead, it was a bad snap and an iffy hold - he missed wide right, as if he was trying to compensate too much for the left hook he's featured since fall camp in Lewiston.

The situation itself might have happened earlier than was necessary, though. On third down and with 19 seconds remaining, Connor Halliday called the Cougars’ final timeout after Gerard Wicks was stopped short on consecutive runs. After the game, Mike Leach said he thought the team was going to punch it into the end zone via the run, but after Halliday called the last timeout, Leach elected to kick the ball. In hindsight, Leach said he wished he had run one more play to try and get the TD.

The glaring reason why the Golden Bears even had the lead -- two back-to-back kick returns for TDs where the WSU coverage never laid a hand on him. Leach said neither of the kick returns were particularly exotic or difficult to stop. Indeed, from my chair, WSU's coverage simply parted, allowing huge gaps, and Cal's Trevor Davis simply picked one and ran forward.

If not for those two kickoff returns, the game could have turned. WSU seemed to be building momentum, grabbing an 11-point lead only to see Cal respond with a TD without the offense coming off the bench.

A well-executed onside kick from Erik Powell, who lost the job of kicking field goals after missing two at Nevada, was a bright spot for the Cougs, perhaps the highlight of WSU’s day on special teams because it was the one example where everything went right.

  • There was a fourth-and-eight in the first half where the Cougs passed on a field goal attempt from 51 yards. They went for it but could not pick up the first down. As much as Leach likes to go for it, if they still had Andrew Furney this season, they probably would have elected to kick.

  • In the fourth quarter, Cal took the lead 54-52 but Xavier Cooper blocked the extra point.

  • Linebacker Tana Pritchard made his only tackle of the night on special teams, identical to what he did against Utah in the previous game.

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