ON HOMECOMING NIGHT, the only thing this pair of Cougars was on the receiving end of was, well, mistakes. There were three dropped passes by Isiah Barton. And then there were two fumbles – and a near-miss – by Jared Karstetter, one of which set up Stanford’s first touchdown of the evening en route to a 44-14 win at Martin Stadium.
WSU coach Paul Wulff was critical of the wide receivers’ mistakes, but also acknowledged that the return of Jeff Tuel as quarterback may have had an impact on the senior pair.
“Balls (from different quarterbacks) come at you different, and when you get in live situations it’s different than what you’ve been working on the last five, six weeks,” Wulff said in a postgame interview with the Spokesman-Review. “I thought it could be an issue in this game.
“It surprised me it was to the degree that it was.”
With about eight minutes left in the first quarter and WSU at its own 20-yard line, Tuel connected with Karstetter, but he appeared to fumble the ball. The call was overturned after the replay, and the ball was ruled incomplete.
ON THE COUGARS’ first drive of the second quarter, Karstetter actually did fumble, courtesy of Stanford cornerback Johnson Bademosi, and that ball was recovered by safety Michael Thomas to the Cardinal 47. Seven plays later, Stanford had its first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Jeremy Stewart, in the books – and a 10-0 lead.
Wulff said that Karstetter, who entered the game in eighth place on WSU’s all-time career receptions list, with 130, has been in a slump. The senior has caught just five balls in the last two games – two against UCLA and three on Saturday for a mere 26 yards.
“He’s dropped some balls and that’s not like Jared,” he said. “We need to get him back.”
The Cougars (3-3 overall, 1-2 Pac-10) trailed going into halftime, but three points? That was nothing.
A mere three-point deficit against the No. 7 team in the nation? That was something.
A comeback was definitely doable.
It just didn’t get done.
BARTON ZOOMED 50 YARDS with the opening kickoff return in the second half, giving Cougar faithful hope that an upset was possible on Homecoming weekend.
And then … nothing.
In rapid succession, the Cougars went three-and-out, the defense surrendered a 62-yard pass and a 10-yard touchdown pass and the Cardinal was on its way to an unanswered 28 points.
With a little more than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, Tuel’s 9-yard pass to Karstetter was fumbled, but Barton recovered it on the WSU 34 for a first down. Two plays later, though, Barton dropped a pass on the WSU 32. He also dropped a ball late in the period on first down at the WSU 20.
“Jeff was getting pressured and some balls were coming at us not like he usually throws,” Barton said in a postgame interview. “But some of it was just us not catching the ball. It was a bad day that way for the receivers.”
Barton made a 31-yard catch to give WSU possession in the red zone in its first drive of the fourth quarter, but the Cougars were unable to convert as Barton dropped the ensuing pass at the Cardinal 9. He finished the game with 63 yards on seven receptions.
In a postgame radio interview, Tuel was succinct on the topic of dropped balls.
“That’s one thing we need to get better at,” he said.
The recorded attendance of 30,843 people was the most for the Cougars at Martin Stadium since the 2008 Apple Cup, when 32,211 fans packed the stands.
Washington State has not allowed points on the opponents opening drive in each of the six games this season.
Saturday marked the Cougars’ closest game against ranked opponents at the half since leading No. 18 Arizona State 10-7 at halftime in Pullman on Oct. 6, 2007.
Sophomore linebacker Sekope Kaufusi was unable to play because of a stinger, so the Cougars turned to true freshman Chester S'ua, who in the second quarter recovered a fumble by Stepfan Taylor at the Stanford 40. Wulff said that S’ua “did a heck of a job” in his first collegiate start.
Two years ago, Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu was taken down by Cougars safety Eric Block while trying to catch a pass across the middle, and missed the rest of the season. Saturday, he was crushed by safety Casey Locker coming over the middle during the first quarter. Owusu suffered a concussion and did not return to the game.
“I have no comment on that play, because I gave all my comments to the officials during the game,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who felt that his player was hit in the head and there should have been a flag.
Washington State wide receiver Henry Eaddy, a freshman, also took a big hit on a screen pass and suffered a concussion.
Asked whether he has seen a better group of tight ends as Stanford’s Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, Cougars defensive coordinator Chris Ball was emphatic.
“Not as good as they are,” he said in a postgame interview with The Spokesman-Review. “They’ve got a great system. It’s difficult because they’ve got the run game with it, they can spread you out and they’ve got the guy to throw it.”
Stanford’s 14 straight wins sets a new school record, besting the 1904-05 and 1939-41 teams' 13-game streaks, and continues the nation's longest win streak.
Stanford freshman Charlie Hopkins, a defensive end, is a graduate of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane.