A titanic meltdown in Pac-10 debut, 44-33

CORVALLIS -- What to expect from the Cougars in their first real test of 2005? After starting the season against three cream-puffs, that was the question of the week as WSU prepped for its Pac-10 opener. Turns out Bill Doba had a big bag of surprises. The 3-4 defense. Eight men in pass coverage. A flea flicker. The I-formation and more. In the end, though, the biggest surprise of all was an epic Cougar meltdown that allowed Oregon State to rally from a 17-point deficit to a 44-33 victory.

Four second-half Beaver interceptions of Cougar quarterback Alex Brink fueled the comeback and no doubt also will relight talk of a quarterback controversy on the Palouse.

The Cougars, now 3-1, outscored the 3-2 Beavers 30-16 in the first half but came out flatter than day-old Dr. Pepper after intermission and were schooled to the tune of 28-3.

WSU's last three possessions of the game went like this: fumble, interception, interception.

That was a stark contrast to the game's first 30 minutes. The Cougs moved the ball almost at will, offsetting inconsistent play by their defense and a downright painful performance by Graham Siderius and the kickoff team.

Jason Hill pulls in a TD pass. The junior from San Francisco was on a record pace until knocked out of the game with a quad contusion.

All cylinders were clicking on offense. Jason Hill, who had to leave the game in the third quarter with a thigh bruise, turned in one of the greatest days ever for a Washington State receiver. He caught eight balls for one TD and 190 yards ---- 179 of those hashes coming in the first half.

Jerome Harrison eclipsed the century mark in rushing for the seventh straight game, piling up 124 yards and three TDs --- most of the yards and all of the scores coming in the first half. And Brink, a sophomore from down the road in Eugene, was on fire early and finished the day with 531 air yards, a new WSU
single-game record. He hit on
31 of 59 passes.

Despite a sluggish offensive start to the third quarter, it looked like the Cougar D was going to hold the ship.

Twice in that period, following 3-and-outs by the WSU offense, the Beavers threatened to turn the momentum. And twice the Cougar defense rose to the occasion. Early in the period the Beavers drove to the WSU 15, but defensive end Adam Braidwood broke into the Beaver backfield and forced quarterback Matt Moore into an ill-advised throw that senior corner Alex Teems picked off in the endzone.

On the very next Beaver series they took advantage of a poor Cougar punt and a big return to drive to the WSU 10. The Cougar D held tough, though, stuffing them on fourth-down-and-one.

A series later, following Trent Bray's interception of Brink at the WSU 23, the Beavers finally broke through. Running back Yevenson Bernard scored from 1-yard out with two minutes left in the third, narrowing the score to 30-23. Six minutes later they put an exclamation mark on their resurrection when safety Sabby Piscitelli intercepted Brink on a first-down pass and returned the ball 23 yards for a TD. And suddenly the Cougars' would-be cakewalk had turned into a 30-30 donnybrook.

THE MOTHER OF ALL TURNABOUTS: Cougar receiver Michael Bumpus caught a fourth quarter pass from Brink and was off to the races --- and a likely touchdown --- when a trailing Beaver DB punched the ball out of his arms. Piscitelli recovered the ball and three plays later Matt Moore connected with all-world Mike Hass for a 64-yard touchdown.

CALL HIM MR. ENDZONE: Cougar junior cornerback Don Turner, victimized by back spasms this week and considered questionable for the game, was in top form Saturday. He picked off a fourth quarter Matt Moore pass in the endzone and at the end of the second period he skied high in the endzone to strip a Beaver receiver of what would have been a TD with just 31 seconds left in the half.

MISLEADING STATS OF THE DAY: The Cougars ran 99 offensive plays to the Beavers' 82 and averaged 6.4 yards per play to OSU's 5.0.


* Asked at halftime what he was going to do about WSU's poor showing on kickoffs, which set up all of OSU's 16 first-half points, Bill Doba quipped, "If you've got an idea, I'm all for it."

* With three punt returns for 20 yards, sophomore Michael Bumpus passed Shawn Tims to move into the No. 5 spot on WSU's career punt return yardage list. He needs 80 more to surpass 1940s Cougar legend Jerry Williams.

* Senior Cougar punter Kyle Basler didn't get on the field until the third quarter. And while the kick itself only covered 30 yards, it was notable because it moved him into a tie with 1970s Cougar standout Gavin Hedrick for most punts in a career. He broke the record on the Cougars' very next possession.

* Sophomore placekicker Loren Langley, whose struggles a year ago had the Cougar Nation holding their collective breath coming into 2005, kicked two field goals to extend his streak of successful treys to seven.

* When the Cougars went into the 3-4 defense, tackle Bryan Olson came out of the game and true freshman linebacker Greg Trent came in. Doba said the Cougars have been practicing the 3-4 for a couple of weeks and may use it as much as 20 times per game this season.

* Brink's 531 passing yards establishes a WSU record for a single game, surpassing Drew Bledsoe's 476 yards against Utah in the 1992 Copper Bowl. In addition, Brink's 59 pass attempts marked the second-most in a single game by a Cougar. Bledsoe still holds the top spot, with 66 attempts against Montana in 1992. Jack Thompson's 52 against Cal in 1976 was the old No. 2 placeholder.

* Brink completed passes to nine different receivers. Bumpus had the most -- nine (going for 132 yards).

* The Cougars return home next week for their first game on campus in more than a month. They'll take on 1-2 Stanford -- a 44-20 loser to Oregon today. Kickoff is set for 2 pm.

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