Reflections on a stinker

PASADENA -- <b>Rueben Mayes</b>, the legendary Cougar running back of the 1980s, used to say that the outcome of any football game can pretty much be boiled down to four, maybe five, plays. As lopsided as it was, Wednesday's Rose Bowl game --- which Mayes watched from the Cougar sideline -- was proof-positive of his old adage. Five plays were the difference between what was an embarassment and what could have been a real contest.

There were 130 snaps between Oklahoma and WSU, but the tale was really told by a crucial quintet of them.

Key Play No. 1:
On Oklahoma's first possession of the game, QB Nate Hybl, facing third-and-nine at his own 21 against menacing Will Derting and the amped-up Cougar D, dropped back to pass, was chased out of the pocket and the scrambled for his life to get to the first-down marker. He barely made it, but the game's momentum was forever changed as the Sooners proceeded to drive 43 more yards before kicking a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Key Play No. 2:
Early in the second quarter, one play after Jason Gesser hooked up with slashing and dashing Jerome Riley on a pass play to give the Cougars first down at the Sooner 21, Gesser called what seemed the perfect audible: A pass to Devard Darling, running a slant, just inside the five. The play was there. The ball wasn't. Oklahoma's Andre Woolfolk intercepted the pass at the two-yard-line.

Key Play No. 3:
Actually this one's more a trifecta but since they're all bunched together, we'll view them as one. The Cougars started their fifth possession of the day at the Oklahoma 36, but couldn't convert. A pass to Riley that was good enough for a first down is nullified by a penalty, a subsequent 28-yard "completion" to Darling in the red zone is ruled out of bounds by the length of a toe nail, and then Drew Dunning's 51-yard field goal attempt to tie things up at 3 is foiled when the kicker takes a stutter-step because of a timing miscue somewhere in the snap, placement and approach process. The kick is low and gets tipped.

Key Play No. 4:
With just more than three minutes left in the first half, Hybl and Antwone Savage hook up for a 20-yard passing gain that is augmented when the Cougars are flagged for face-masking on the play. In one fell swoop, Oklahoma goes from its own 35 to the WSU 30, setting up the Sooners' first TD --- another Hybl-Savage connection -- with 1:51 left in the half. Sooners 10, Cougars 0.

Key Play No. 5:
A calamitous late-second-quarter series by the Cougars that included a false start penalty, a long incompletion, and a sack of Gesser ended in horrifying fashion and, for all intents and purposes, sealed the game's outcome. Punting out of the Cougar endzone, Kyle Basler booted a 42-yard line drive that Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins grabbed on a bounce and returned 51-yards for a touchdown to put the Sooners up 17-0 heading into halftime. Two things about the play standout: First, Basler's line drive didn't give Cougar cover guys enough time to get down field; and second, an Oklahoma player clipped Cougar Al Genatone on the return but no flag was thrown.

Five crucial plays.

Game, set and match to Oklahoma.

Reverse just one of them and what happens to the flow of the game? Reverse two of them and does this Cougar embarassment suddenly become a donnybrook for the ages?

Who's to know. The swagger Oklahoma brought to the game leads one to think they would have stared down any challenge on this day. But one thing is clear: Football is truly a game of inches and the line between nationally televised blowout and victory is sometimes finer than you think.

DESPITE THE SEEMINGLY endless ineptitude on the WSU side, there were some moments to cheer about Wednesday.

Among them:

* Freshman linebacker Will Derting, who would later leave the game with an unspecified health woe, sporting No. 51 and looking all the world like the second-coming of Dick Butkus in his first quarter harassment of Hybl.

* Senior defensive tackle Tomasi Kongaika putting a pancake-style sack on Hybl at the OU two-yard-line midway through the second quarter.

* Senior receiver Mike Bush delivering a crushing, blindside block on all-universe Sooner linebacker Teddy Lehman that helped Jerome Riley turn a reception into a darting, 32-yard gain to the OU 21 in the second quarter.

* Riley, hampered by injury early in the year, putting a nifty exclamation point on his monster second half of the season with nine catches for 139 yards and one TD.

* Junior cornerback Cole Sheridan, the Pride of Pullman High, jumping out of his skin with enthusiasm as he spearheaded the Cougars' run on to the field before the opening kickoff. He capped the effort with a bicep-flexing Incredible Hulk-like pose.

* Junior return man Sammy Moore taking a kickoff to the house for 89 yards in the game's waning moments.

LOWPOINT OFF THE FIELD: A loud chorus of boos when Mike Price's photo flashed across the big screen before the game.

HIGHPOINT ON THE SIDELINE: Bill Doba sending in a substitute for senior All-American Marcus Trufant in the final minute so the star corner from Tacoma could get a well-deserved round of applause from the Cougar faithful and a plethora of heartfelt hugs from teammates and coaches on the sideline.

OBSERVATION OF THE DAY: Said the Los Angeles Times, "Oklahoma was so confident in its offense or maybe its defense, or maybe both, that it went for a first down on fourth-and-one at its own 35 with 11:18 remaining (in the second quarter) while holding a mere 3-0 lead. The gamble worked when Kejuan Jones gained two yards."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: From Kevin Modesti at the Los Angeles Daily News, "The only Pac-10 team to win a bowl this season is UCLA, which didn't even have a head coach on the sideline. It's weirdly logical, then, that Washington State lost with two head coaches on the sideline."


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