Swagger, Interrupted: Wheels are off Cougar train

A DRIVING RAIN fell on Reser Stadium throughout the morning hours. The clouds parted just before kickoff. But one side of the field didn't get the message. While the Beavers shone bright, the Cougars appeared stuck in a downpour. And, in many ways, the game was but a metaphor on a season going quickly down the drain.

The score was 38-19, but the most telling statistic was found in third-down conversions. The Cougars made one out of 14, OSU eight out of 18. Not surprisingly, then, the Beavers ran 18 more offensive plays than the Cougars, held a 441-320 advantage in total yards and a 9 minute edge in time of possession.

It was so bad Saturday, that even when things went right for the Cougars, they went wrong.

Case in point: Early in the contest, safety Hamza Abdullah twice put himself in perfect position on OSU pass plays coming his direction. But both would-be interceptions flitted away through his hands.

Case in point No. 2: The Cougars got a hand on a first quarter Beaver punt deep in OSU territory, but instead of recovering it for a touchdown or a safety, the pigskin knuckled out, took a wacky bounce rolled forward for an astounding 69 yards.

"We had a lot of opportunities...and should've taken advantage of them and we didn't," said coach Bill Doba, not in a mood to mince words after what he perceived as a lack of effort by the team, especially in the first half. "I'm really disappointed in our kids. I thought we'd compete better than that."

The Beavers scored on their first two possessions and never trailed. Any hopes for a return to the dominant defense from earlier in the year were dashed five minutes into the game.

The offense didn't fare much better, going three-and-out five times in the first half.

The flat start on D in the opening 30 was especially disappointing. After a fourth-quarter meltdown against Oregon, the stop corps appeared to regain its mojo in the second half last week against Stanford.

"They've lost that swagger -- they've just got to get that thing back," said Doba of a defense that has played like a shell of the squad that entered the Oregon game ranked the 16th best defense in the nation. "I thought our secondary just played soft. I know coach (Ken) Greene has worked his tail off all last week getting them (prepared) but you've got to also credit Oregon State. They made plays and we didn't."

BY THE END OF THE first half, the game -- like the Cougars' shot for a bowl bid -- was all but over at 24-3.

After a solid week of practices coming off two touch losses, Doba expected to see more fire from his players. Instead fire, he saw flickering ambers -- in all phases of the game.

"We tried to run the football -- we got driven off the line," Doba said. "Their defensive line did a nice job against us."

The offensive line didn't fare much better in pass protection. Alex Brink was pressured, harassed and flat out slapped around with increasing frequency as the game wore on. Brink did get into a bit of a rhythm early on but after Oregon State widened their lead, he eventually began forcing balls.

After Washington State put three on the board with a 36-yard field goal by Loren Langley in the first quarter, the two teams went back and forth, neither squad seizing the advantage. This was the critical juncture, momentum there for the taking. Oregon State was the team that seized the moment, adding two more touchdowns in a four minute span in the second quarter while the OSU defense shut down Alex Brink and the Cougar offense the rest of the half.

Washington State's pass defense had a tough go of it all day. It's one thing if a player runs a phenomenal route and makes an outstanding catch. It's another when all they have to do is make a beeline and run by defenders. Doba didn't try to sugarcoat the way he felt about that after the game, although he gave some credit for their play in the second half.

"We got beat deep on routes, just 4 verts," an exasperated Doba said. "We just didn't come out and play hard. I was proud of the kids, the way they battled back in the second half but, heck, you can't start like that and expect to win a ball game."

On defense in the first half, the Cougs opted to go nickel rather than blitz to try and take away the pass.

It didn't work.

Derek Anderson wasn't razor sharp but he hit enough big passes, enough 3rd down conversions, to move Oregon State's offense with consistency. The lack of heat on Anderson continues a disturbing three week trend. The Cougs' Adam Braidwood notched three sacks on the Oregon signal caller but once again there was simply not enough consistent pressure from the defense for most of the game. And by the time the Cougs started to get to Anderson, the game was fast moving out of reach..

The Beavers went back to the run after building the big lead, content to punt when they couldn't move the chains and let their defense go to work. The Cougs didn't get into the end zone until 4:33 remained in the 3rd quarter.

WSU is now under .500 for the first time since 2000 .

Asked about Brink's performance, Doba said the freshman played well for his first start but there was tremendous disappointment the rest of the offense didn't step up their game to mask any deficiencies a young quarterback is bound to make.

"For his first start, I think he really battled," said Doba. "He competed. He took some hellacious hits and he got right back up. He's a warrior. I'm proud of him....We've got to help him, he's a young kid and he's throwing the ball up in the air -- we've got to go and get it. We can't just jog down the dang field. We've got to help the young guy. And I don't think we did."

Jerome Harrison, 20 carries for 98 yards, also received high marks from Doba but he wasn't in a mood to throw out too many accolades after this game.

"There's a few bright spots in here...but that wasn't Cougar Football. Not what I'm used to seeing. I'm just disappointed. I know we'll get back to work on them.. we'll start tomorrow."

The Cougs are going to run on Sunday and spend time in meetings as is usual but at 3-4 and Southern Cal coming to town, it only gets tougher next week. Doba sees the game as an opportunity, and he issued a challenge to the players -- you'd best be up for this one.

"We have a great opportunity next week going against the No. 1 team in the nNation and if they can't get fired up for that, then there's something wrong with them. We'll come back battling."

For the second-straight week, Scott Davis was the Cougars' top tackler. He had 10 total stops. Will Derting had nine.

Defensive end Adam Braidwood, coming off a 12-tackle effort against Stanford, posted six tackles against the Beavs -- four of them behind the line of scrimmage.

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