Cougs can't seize opportunities aplenty

DAN SPITZ forces a fumble against ASU

BIG PLAYS ON defense and special teams kept Washington State in it against ASU. But the Cougars, forced to start a pair of freshmen on the offensive line, were outmatched on Saturday and Jeff Tuel threw two first half picks that killed WSU drives in ASU territory. The Cougar defense racked up six takeaways but the offense was challenged all day, and ASU did enough to win 27-14.

The Cougar defense has struggled mightily this season but in the first half on Saturday, they were opportunistic and turned back ASU time after time.

A forced fumble by Dan Spitz was recovered by Casey Hamlett. A successful fake punt by Reid Forrest for a first down. An interception by Louis Bland. A recovered fumble on a high snap by Brandon Jones.

All were potential momentum seizing opportunities in the first 30 minutes. And all went unclaimed.

The Cougs forced six turnovers on the day, but got zero points off of the first five. It wasn't a big mystery why.

WAZZU COULDN'T KEEP the Sun Devil defense off of Jeff Tuel with an injury-plagued offensive line.

That eventually led the true freshman quarterback to start pressing. Midway through the second quarter, Tuel had been sacked four times and thrown two interceptions.

ASU came into the game with the ninth best run defense and eight best pass defense in the country -- and they showed why on Saturday.

The Cougar defense hung tough, though, with ASU leading 7-0 they forced another Sun Devil punt at the 9:21 mark of the second quarter. Travis Long was leading the charge up front, joined by Toby Turpin, Spitz and others.

"This is the best our front four has played since I don't know when," said Jim Walden on the radio broadcast.

Marshall Lobbestael came in for Tuel and ASU promptly helped out the Cougs with two big penalties. But with WSU at the Arizona State 40-yard line and a fresh set of downs, the Cougs converted a fourth-and-three but a fumble by Daniel Blackledge after gaining the first down turned the ball over.

ASU promptly broke out their two-minute drill and this time WSU had no answer, with the Sun Devils scoring on a quarterback draw from seven yards out with 0:21 left to take a 13-0 lead (kick failed) at the half.

THE SECOND HALF saw ASU on their opening possession break free on a 53-yard reverse to claim a 19-0 lead, as the kick again failed. Lobbestael took the first series and the second verse was the same as the first -- the o-line couldn't hold the pocket around him.

At that point, ASU had blown up the Cougars for seven sacks. But on the ensuing possession, Xavier Hicks picked off a pass, the Cougs' fifth takeaway on the day. But Lobbestael and Co. went three-and-out under heavy pressure.

WSU ended the day with six takeaways, the last coming on an Andy Mattingly interception.

After the pick, the Cougars finally got on the board when Tuel hit Jared Karstetter on a fourth-down, 31-yard strike as the Cougar receiver made a diving grab in the end zone to narrow the margin to 19-7.

Another spirited series by the Cougar defense resulted in an ASU three-and-out and the WSU crowd sensed another 19-point comeback, like the one WSU pulled off against SMU, might be afoot. But center Kenny Alfred had a cut on his knee and had to come out on the final play of the third quarter and ASU stopped the Cougs, taking over on the WSU 34-yard line and punching it in.

Backed up on their own 1-yard line, Tuel lobbed one to Johnny Forzani and the Canadian speedster raced a program record 99 yards to paydirt to complete the scoring at 27-14. The previous long pass reception was 97-yards by Nian Taylor in 1998.

WSU had another couple series on offense with time left but could not solve ASU the rest of the way.

Wazzu has a bye this week and with the huge run of injuries, especially on the o-line, they need it. WSU could get back, among others, starting offensive guard Zack Williams (high ankle) by the time they face Cal on Oct. 24.

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