COMMENTARY: Cougars making history

PULLMAN -- What was I thinking? A week ago, did I really write on this site after Washington State worked over Portland State that the possibility of a few more wins this season existed for the Cougars?

Even against, gasp, Oregon, because of its confusion?

I'd like to say it was foggy conclusion resulting from a night of bar-hopping in Pullman. But no. I was sitting down in an easy chair, clear-headed, with no more than vitamin water on the desk when that thought hit me.

After watching Oregon thoroughly humiliate Washington State 63-14 on Saturday, there is only one conclusion anyone can come to about the 2008 Cougars:


They are something truly historic.

As in, this is shaping up to be the worst Washington State football team of the modern era.

Worse than 1955, when the Cougars were 1-7-2 and lost four consecutive league games by scores of 63-16, 45-0, 54-9 and 70-33?

Worse than 1970, when WSU went 1-10, its lone win over Idaho?

It's sure starting to look that way.

This group of Cougars, a seemingly nice bunch who appear to try hard for first-year coach Paul Wulff, probably deserve better. Instead, they're getting one heck of a college lesson, which in this case to say, life isn't fair.

Boy, is this season unfair.

It's going to get a lot more unfair as the season unfolds, even with patsies such as UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Hawaii remaining among the final eight games. Maybe there's a win somewhere among that four, but after watching the ease in which California and Oregon have taken the Cougars apart in Martin Stadium, you'd really have to bleed Crimson to believe that.

Saturday started off with so much promise, too.

Washington State was coming off an impressive performance over Portland State, which as it turns out, might be well on its way to becoming the Big Sky's footwipe. Still, a win is a win; maybe the Cougars could squeeze some confidence from the Vikings' performance and use it as a springboard against Oregon.

Then there was the game setting: A postcard September day in the Palouse, before an energetic crowd of nearly 31,000.

WSU over Oregon? If Oregon State could stun Southern Cal, how improbable was a Cougar win, anyway?

The answer came in about three minutes. The butterfingered Cougars dashed any chance of staying with the explosive Ducks as they coughed up two fumbles on consecutive plays. Before the last of late tailgaters took their seats, Oregon had a 14-0 lead.

And yet, there was a moment when it looked like Washington State was starting to grow up. It came in the second quarter, when the offense, led by quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, started to click.

Trailing 21-0, Lobbestael led Washington State on productive 16-play, 82-yard scoring drive that included three third-down conversions and a smart mix of run and pass plays. The Cougars were within 21-7, and while no one could possibly think "Game on," at least there were signs the team was making baby steps.

This was a time for the defense to make a stand and build some momentum. Instead, the Cougars folded. The defense allowed Oregon to produce scoring drives of 80 and 78 yards during the final 4:23 of the second quarter as the Ducks grabbed a commanding 35-7 halftime lead.

Whatever baby steps WSU took during the second quarter were erased with a forgettable second half. Oregon toyed with the Cougars, playing everyone on the roster on the way to outscoring Washington State 28-7.

If there was anything positive to emerge from Saturday's debacle, it was Lobbestael. First, Lobbestael emerged from the game in one piece, which was a miracle after the frightful beating the Cougars took a week ago in losing quarterbacks Kevin Lopina and Gary Rogers. Lobbestael made plenty of mistakes, headed by the two interceptions he threw early in the third quarter.

But, Lobbestael rarely seemed rattled despite Oregon's relentless pressure, and finished the game with a touchdown drive, a 9-yard pass to Michael Willis with 1:19 remaining. Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, noting this was Lobbestael's first start against a Pac-10 opponent, had praise for the redshirt freshman.

"I was impressed with his maturity," Sturdy said.

No matter how much Lobbestael improves, it's not going to matter until the Cougars figure out some of the basics of defense. Washington State is yielding an average of 269 rushing yards per game after Oregon gashed the Cougars for 346.

Not even Washington or UCLA is within reach unless Washington State gets a handle on that stat.

That much I know.

Nick Daschel covered Washington and Washington State football, and to a lesser extent, the Pacific-10 Conference, for The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash during the past two decades.

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