Thud! WSU's bowl outlook clouded by Devils

TEMPE – In every way, it seems, Washington State is limping to the finish line. Injuries piled up again Saturday as the Cougars were humiliated in Tempe by underdog Arizona State, 47-14. And the guarantee of a bowl invitation now resides squarely on beating Washington next week.

"They need to come back fighting," WSU head coach Bill Doba said of his troops in an interview with the Cougar Sports Radio Network. "If they don't play better than this they don't deserve to go to a bowl game."

The Apple Cup, he said, is for "all the marbles."

The Sun Devils, who scored on their first seven possessions and nine of 11 overall, firebombed the Cougar D for long pass plays and built leads of 30-7 at halftime, 37-14 early in the third quarter and 40-14 in the fourth.

To add salt to the wound, small-minded Sun Devil head coach Dirk Koetter put the proverbial pedal to the metal in the final two minutes to ring up one final TD with 39 seconds left on the clock. Asked about that gross breach of decorum, Doba simply said, "I won't comment on that."

After convincing back-to-back wins over Oregon and UCLA, widespread opinion was that WSU had a chance to run the regular season table. But after stumbling badly against Arizona a week ago and now at ASU, the Cougs -- No. 25 in the nation and No. 3 in the Pac-10 just eight days ago – are in a must-win Apple Cup situation.

WSU is 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-10, with Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona all poised to go past them in the bowl pecking order. A seventh win virtually guarantees a post-season invitation. Fortunately for the Cougars, the Huskies are struggling mightily as well, losing their sixth straight game, to previously winless Stanford, 20-3, on Saturday.

Injuries continue to wreak havoc for the Cougars. Saddled with a rash of them – including high ankle sprains to starting receivers Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus -- coming into the game, WSU left the desert with cloudy outlooks for defensive tackle Aaron Johnson (elbow), linebacker Scott Davis (wrist) and receiver Chris Jordan (receiver).

ASU's dominance was complete. Unofficial stats showed the Devils outgaining the Cougars 562 yards to 192. The Cougars punted seven times, the Devils zero. The Cougars produced a net of 27 rushing yards to the Devils' 202. The Cougars controlled the ball for 23 minutes, the Devils 37. The Cougars had 12 first downs, the Devils 27.

"I didn't see this coming at all," said Doba, noting that the Cougars had a good week of practices and were focused before the game. "To give up that many points in the first half was unbelievable."

This was the Cougars' worst defeat since dropping a 55-13 decision to USC a year ago. They opened this season with a 40-14 loss to Auburn.

WSU defensive end Mkristo Bruce, who appeared to tweak an already tender knee, said the Devils' play calling had the Cougs flummoxed. "None of us really understood what was going on. They came out there and attacked us the whole game," he said. "We didn't understand what was going on, but it went on."

THE SUN DEVILS (now 6-4) scored on the fifth snap of the game and truly never looked back even though the Cougars evened things at 7-7 on a nine-yard Alex Brink pass to Charles Dillon that was set up when the Devils fumbled a Cougar punt at their own 37.

ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter completed 15 of 24 passes for 339 yards, three TDs and one interception. He produced 112 on his air yards on just two plays. The Miller brothers, Zach and Bret, were Carpenter's favorite targets, hauling in a collective 10 passes for 165 yards.

For the Cougars, Alex Brink completed an unofficial 14 of 30 passes for 161 yards, two TDs and two INTs. Brandon Gibson was the leading receiver with six catches for 51 yards. Tight end Jed Collins had four receptions for 38 yards and one TD.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Junior safety Husain Abdullah paced the WSU defense with 11 tackles and one INT. Sophomore linebacker Greg Trent had 10 tackles and senior linebacker Steve Dildine nine.

WSU freshman linebacker Andy Mattingly – and his entire family – were overwhelmed this weekend when his older brother, a soldier serving in Iraq, made a surprise visit to Tempe for the game.

Charles Dillon, a JC transfer, scored his first TD as a Cougar when he hauled in a nine-yard aerial from Brink in the first quarter. He concluded the night with three receptions for 25 yards.

Brink, who has piloted the Cougars to two consecutive Apple Cup wins, will be gunning for an unprecedented third straight – a coveted record in the WSU record book. Kickoff is at 3:45 pm and the game will be televised live on FSN.

Doba, asked about the Cougars' mind-numbing list of injuries, said playing 12 games without a bye is something he and WSU administrators will have to revisit. He suggested starting the season a week early or ending after Thanksgiving. Another option would be to play 11 games rather than 12.

With the Cougar basketball team playing UW-Milwaukee at the same time the footballers were battling in Tempe, the Cougar Radio Network opted to broadcast the basketball game on tape delay after the football game. Twice during the grid broadcast, Bob Robertson offered up the score of the basketball game but warned listeners to plug their ears if they planned to listen to the tape-delay broadcast. For the record, the Cougar hoopers won.

The Pac-10 has contracts with six bowl games. A seventh bowl game is possible provided there's not another BCS-league team available with a better record than the No. 7 team in the Pac-10.

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