WASHINGTON STATE'S season from hell reached new depths at the hands of the Sun Devils on Saturday. The Cougs now have but one game left to avoid the ultimate humilation: going winless in conference play for the second time in four seasons. WSU lost its fifth consecutive game at ASU, 46-7, in dispiriting fashion.
WSU (2-9 overall, 0-8 Pac-12) had another special-teams gaffe, a botched snap that Mike Bowlin couldn't handle, that set the tone early and put ASU up 3-0 on a 21-yard field goal by Jon Mora.
“I thought we played hard,” WSU coach Mike Leach said afterward. “We were frantic trying to make too much happen.
“Effort meets precise. The precision got away from us.”
There also might be a sense that the defense played poorly through a cursory glance at the statistics. After all, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly moved the ball well as the Sun Devils (6-5, 4-4) built a 32-0 lead at the intermission.
“We didn’t attack adversity very well,” junior offensive lineman Elliott Bosch said. “We weren’t helping out the defense at all.”
Kelly, who completed 20 of 23 passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns, played well but the Cougars also put him in position to succeed throughout the game. The Sun Devils seemingly started every possession at WSU’s 40-yard line. Even with great field position, they still managed to produce 561 yards of total offense.
“That’s always tough,” said WSU junior safety Deone Bucannon, who had a game-high 17 tackles. “But to be a great defense, we need to embrace those sorts of things. We need to think of it as another opportunity.”
BUT THE LARGER issue again was WSU’s offense. During fall camp, many expected the Cougars to produce plenty of points this season, but no one knew if they could stop anyone. The notion seemed reasonable as former coach Paul Wulff’s defensive units routinely ranked 100th or worse in total defense, but WSU’s passing offense was among the nation’s highest ranked last year.
The Cougars actually entered the game sixth among Football Bowl Subdivision programs in passing offense, but that is misleading. Because of an inept running game, WSU has thrown the ball 522 times this season. In comparison, Baylor, which ranks second in passing offense, has 354 passing attempts.
Senior quarterback Jeff Tuel, who left last week’s 44-36 loss against UCLA with an injury, completed just 8 of 16 passes for 67 yards before Leach pulled him during the first half. One week after Connor Halliday nearly engineered an improbable comeback, he was just as ineffective as Tuel. He completed 13 of 33 for 173 yards, one touchdown and a interception.
“I thought they both played kind of similar,” Leach said. “It’s not just either one of them – they had plenty of help out there.”
WSU had five possessions during the first quarter. The Cougars netted just one first down as ASU built an 18-0 lead entering the second quarter.
The Cougars produced just 241 yards of total offense – 1 on the ground. Leach likes to say that balance on offense is not derived through a 50-50 split between the run and pass, but taking advantage of what a defense provides on the field.
Either way, the Sun Devils did not have to worry about any balance. With no running threat to worry about, they picked their times to blitz and otherwise dropped most of their defenders into coverage. Despite that, WSU’s beleaguered offensive line – and running game – had no solution. The Cougars averaged 0.1 yards per carry.
WSU’s running game woes routinely put it in third-and-long, where it converted just 1 of 16 attempts. The Cougars also had just 14 first downs to 32 for ASU.
It is no coincidence Leach has focused heavily on the offensive side with his first full Cougars’ recruiting class. With the exception of sophomore Kristoff Williams’ 54-yard touchdown reception from Halliday with 57 seconds remaining, WSU had few explosive plays.
The Cougars now have been outscored 211-48 since their last win at Sun Devil Stadium. Until Leach can infuse more offensive talent, it is difficult to envision the result changing on the road.
On the injury front, it appears WSU escaped largely in good shape, though Nolan Washington (hamstring), Travis Long (knee) and Steven Hoffart (shoulder) were slowed and icing down in the second half.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: Bowlin’s fumbled punt gave ASU immediate momentum as it took a 3-0 lead on a Mora fied goal.
CATCH OF THE GAME: Brett Bartolone and Dominique Williams both had nice grabs, but Kristoff Williams’ was the only one that resulted in points.
STAT OF THE GAME: WSU converted just 1 of 16 third-down attempts.
MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars had a middling 240 passing yards, but that number was bolstered by Kristoff Williams’ late score.
LEADING TACKLERS: Bucannon had a career-high 17 stops, while cornerback Anthony Carpenter added 12 and linebacker Darryl Monroe had eight.
NEXT GAME: WSU wraps up its season at 12:30 p.m. Friday against Washington at Martin Stadium (TV: Fox).