The debate about the merits of the Seattle game and coach Paul Wulff’s job security certainly will be popular in the media and on the CF.C message boards this week. The two atrocious personal-foul penalties on legitimate tackles will be scrutinized. The fashion conscious might even engage in a debate about the gray uniforms.
But the Cougars (3-4 overall, 1-3 conference) will be hard pressed to be anything more than a lower-echelon Pac-12 team until it develops a legitimate pass rush.
“We’ve just got to get to the quarterback,” WSU sophomore linebacker Sekope Kaufusi said. “We’ve just got to make plays.”
Look no further than the statistics. Even when the Beavers (2-5, 2-2) were forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Trevor Romaine to open the fourth quarter, they took an ungodly 7:37 minutes off the clock on a 15-play, 91-yard drive that started at their own 1-yard line. They also scored on eight of their first nine drives.
“We had opportunities to get off the field and we didn’t,” WSU defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “We dropped a couple of interceptions and could’ve got off the field. We had them in third down and could’ve got off the field. It just didn’t happen.”
OSU converted 8 of 12 third-down opportunities. There were times -- too few but still, there were times -- when several gray jerseys converged on redshirt freshman quarter Sean Mannion. But they never hit him. He never was sacked.
“We needed to make a few more plays on defense,” Wulff said. “Bottom line … we couldn’t force them to punt.”
Mannion entered the game with more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (five). Opponents had repeatedly forced him into mistakes as the Beavers had their worst start since 1996. But not the Cougs.
OSU’S OFFENSE, which ranked 68th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivison teams entering game with 386 yards per game, had 300 hashes at halftime. With the exception of a first-quarter interception -- when sophomore cornerback Damante Horton adeptly wrestled the ball away from wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the end zone -- the Cougars made Mannion look like Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
With seemingly endless time to throw the ball, Mannion methodically picked apart WSU’s defense. That helped the Beavers, who only scored more than 28 points in a game once this season coming into Saturday, reach a season-high score.
“Oregon State played the best football game I have ever seen them play,” Wulff said. “They made every play possible, even when the ball was in the air, and converted everything.”
In fairness, it was not all about an anemic pass rush. The Cougars’ secondary routinely surrendered big plays and dropped a couple of potential interceptions.
“We didn’t play very well,” Ball said. “No excuses. We didn’t show up, and that’s my responsibility.”
THAT WILL NOT get any easier when the Cougars play at noon Saturday at Oregon (6-1, 4-0). Ball allowed that WSU was hindered by having some starters missing earlier in the week. But he said the Cougars also need to be more consistent.
“We lost two games to UCLA and Stanford and got into a midseason funk,” he said. “We’ve got to get out of it. I think we’ve (dwelled) on that as a defensive unit -- coaches to players. We’ve got to flush it and move on.”
“We’ve got to step it up,” he said. “It starts in practice. We just didn’t get it going early in the week. You’ve got to make plays in practice to make plays in the game.
“I felt like they had more of a chip on their shoulder. They just wanted revenge from last year (a 31-14 loss). They just wanted it more that we did.”
It never felt that way with Patterson, Acholonu, Brown and Bruce coming off the edge.
None were significant NFL prospects, but they all were outstanding pass rushers. With the possible exceptions of junior Travis Long, Ball said true freshman Logan Mayes, who has a similar build to Acholonu and Brown, might be WSU’s only natural pass rusher.
“We’ve got to keep recruiting them,” Ball said. “We’re always looking for that speed rusher.”
Four years into the Wulff era, it is another indication that the Cougars still are not back.