WILLIAMS BOLTS OVER WASHINGTON
SEATTLE – Saturday, it was a purple-and-gold airborne attack that did the Cougars in. Never mind that the Huskies, who stormed to a 5-1 record and top-25 rating, had faltered in the second half of the season.
In fact, they had lost four of five games – including the last three.
The bottom line was that on this night, Washington had a duel-threat quarterback, an explosive running back and the ability to make the Cougars’ defense pack up and head to the airport before halftime.
Sophomore signal-caller Keith Price threw for 291 yards and three touchdown passes to break a season school record – at the Cougars’ expense.
Washington State was determined to halt the Huskies’ running game.
In doing so, it forgot to stop the pass.
“We had a few too many big plays in the passing game,” said defensive coordinator Chris Ball. “You take those out of there and I think we played decently. We came into the game wanting to stop the run, and we contained it pretty well.”
THE COUGARS WERE able to hold Chris Polk to a mere 100 rushing yards, 34 of them coming on a late draw play, but he also scored two touchdowns, one a 22-yard pass from Price, and the other, a 1-yard dash to close out scoring.
Defensive end Travis Long said that they spent the week focusing on how to contain Polk, who racked up 284 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in last year's Apple Cup.
“We knew he had a big game last year,” said the junior, who finished the night with three tackles and the team’s only sack, “so we just had to stop the run and put them in passing situations.”
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they didn’t discuss what to do once they had the Huskies there.
“We didn’t keep containing the quarterback a little bit,” said senior defensive tackle Brandon Rankin, who contributed two tackles. “We were rolling out; I missed a couple sacks … (Price) was hurt, but he showed up.
“We just didn’t play as well on the passing game.”
PROVIDING SOLID EVIDENCE of just that was freshman wide receiver Kasen Williams’ leap over sophomore defensive back Nolan Washington during an 18-yard reception that set up a 21-yard scoring pass with 24 seconds left to help the Huskies break a 14-14 tie and take a lead into halftime.
“I think we contained Polk good enough, but it just came down to certain players making plays,” said Washington, who had four tackles. “We didn’t make enough to win today.”
Ball bemoaned that play, saying that it made him sick to his stomach.
“It caught us off guard a little bit, and with our 30-package, we didn’t have a great pass rush there,” he said. “We would like to have that back, and probably would have gone with a four-man rush … We didn’t play very well right there.
“We could have called some better calls, too, to help those kids out.”
Coach Paul Wulff said that allowing the Huskies to score 21 points in the first half was “tough” – especially those final seven.
“They got it down there and it was a scramble,” he said. “We rushed three and dropped eight and Keith Price spilled the ball out and (we) lost contact with where the receiver was at.”
WASHINGTON, WHO CALLED the Apple Cup the worst game of his college career, also expressed frustration over his inability to intercept a 16-yard touchdown pass from Price to Williams at the end of the first quarter.
“I was on him, but I have to get my head around, and that would have been a pick,” he said. “That was me not making the play.”
Such near misses were a source of disappointment for senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who had eight tackles, including one for loss.
“That’s kind of the theme – giving up big plays,” he said. “There were some blown assignments out there and we left some plays out on the field, too. They made more plays than we did.
“It was a team effort. We lost as a team today.”
Sophomore linebacker C.J. Mizell was expected to play a week after returning from a shoulder injury that likely will require offseason surgery. But he was seen on the sidelines Saturday while senior Mike Ledgerwood took his place. At halftime, he took off his uniform.
“Ledgerwood was playing awesome, as a senior in his last game,” Wulff said. “(Mizell) chose to put his sweats on.”
But Ball’s explanation fueled speculation that Mizell was unhappy during the game.
“It was an injury,” he said, “and other than that, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Mizell, who started the first nine games of the season before being sidelined with injuries, finished the season with 56 tackles, fourth best among the Cougars.
Asked to theorize about his future with the Cougars, Ball said that he cannot worry about such things right now.
“We were 10-2 and got a 5-year extension and got fired the next year playing with 64 scholarship players at Alabama,” he said, referring to the 2006 season. “You can’t worry about that – we’re hired guns, you know?”
Ball added that he feels WSU has shown “big improvement” and is headed in the right direction.
“I think Coach Wulff is the guy for the job,” he said. “We’ve got a great staff in place and we’ve got the whole team coming back … This time last year, we were dead last in defense.”
UW coach Steve Sarkisian is 3-0 against the Cougars with each victory coming in a different venue. The Huskies won at Husky Stadium (2009), Martin Stadium (2010) and now CenturyLink Field.
Sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson’s two touchdown receptions brought his season total to 12, tying him with Jason Hill (2004) for the second-most in Cougar history and one shy of Hill’s school-record 13 in 2005.
It was Wilson’s third game of the season with multiple touchdown receptions. He finished the year with single-season records for receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,388). His 108 yards Saturday marked his sixth game of the season with at least 100 yards.
Senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael finished his college career with 335 completions – eighth all-time at WSU – and 603 attempts, good for 10th on the university’s all-time list.
Senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter moved into third place for WSU’s all-time touchdown receptions with the 19th of his career, a 16-yard pass from Lobbestael in the second quarter. His nine receptions tied his season best.
Freshman running back Marcus Mason’s 27-yard carry in the first quarter was the second-longest of his career. His longest attempt was a 65-yard run in the season opener against Idaho State.