Offense sputters in 40-14 loss against Irish

ND's Smith closes in on Tuel

WASHINGTON STATE stayed in the game throughout the first quarter. That was different than several games this season. But the Cougars still could not find a way to slow the opponent, in this case No. 25 ranked Notre Dame, during the second quarter en route to a 40-14 loss in their non-conference finale Saturday in San Antonio.

WSU (1-7), which officially has been eliminated from bowl contention for a sixth consecutive season, trailed 10-0 after 15 minutes.

Notre Dame (6-2) drove to the Cougars' 4-yard line on its opening drive, but had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Nick Tausch. The Cougs on offense, however, offered no such production.

THE IRISH WERE forced to punt on their next drive, but went 80 yards late in the opening quarter to score. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who completed 22 of 27 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, rolled to his right before hitting Duval Kamara in the back of the end zone.

"He (Clausen) did a good job of taking what we were giving them," WSU coach Paul Wulff said during a postgame radio interview.

BUT WULFF FELT the difference between the teams began upfront and it was hard to argue. Notre Dame, which was led by Robert Hughes' 131 yards on 24 carries, gained 255 of its 592 yards of total offense on the ground.

WSU had just 206 yards of total offense, led by senior running back Dwight Tardy's 72 yards on eight carries. Notre Dame held possession for nearly 41 minutes.

"When you can't get off blocks and make plays at the line of scrimmage, it's going to be a long day," Wulff said. "They really dominated the line of scrimmage. They ran the ball pretty well and that was their strength."

The combination of allowing big yardage and not moving the ball became too much to overcome for WSU during the second quarter, which was outgained 390-106 in the first half.

NOTRE DAME SCORED on its first two drives of the quarter as it frequently used the popular Wildcat formation to get the ball into the hands of its best players. Wide receiver Golden Tate, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, scored on a 16-yard run in that formation and Hughes later extended the Irish's lead to 23-0 on a 1-yard run.

"When you get into the Wildcat, you can see how affective he (Tate) is," WSU color commentary Jim Walden said. "He can fly."

"That was the biggest issue for us," Wulff said. "We couldn't give our defense a break. I thought we had a great game plan, but we were tired."

WSU defensive end Casey Hamlett said the Cougars were prepped for the Wildcat of Notre Dame throughout the practice week.

"We prepared for it," he said. "We knew they were going to run it. I'm not sure what happened on those plays. Probably some missed assignments."

But the Cougars looked like they might stay in game when true freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel guided the offense on a seven-play, 69-yard drive. The possession culminated when Tuel, who completed 12 of 23 passes for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns and interceptions, threw a jump-ball touchdown pass to 6-foot-4 sophomore Jared Karstetter.

WSU's defense had another breakdown with just seven seconds left in the half, though. After a timeout, Clausen threw a Hail Mary to Tate, who won a wrestling match for possession with a pair of WSU defenders in the end zone.

GAME NOTES:
BIG STAT:
Notre Dame had possession of the ball for 40:54 minutes.

TONE SETTER:
Clausen completed 22 of 27 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

NOT TO BE OVERSHADOWED:
Tate rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown on four carries and also had 81 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.

TACKLE LEADERS:
Hicks 10.

BIG STRIKE:
After the Cougars scored their first touchdown, Notre Dame responded when Clausen hit Tate for a 50-yard touchdown with just 7 seconds left in the first half.

NEXT UP:
WSU at Arizona, 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

"There's no question we had guys there," Wulff said. "We've got to get to that ball and knock it down."

A SERIES OF OTHER ISSUES resulted in the Cougars sputtering offensively in the second half. The offensive line struggled mightily to protect Tuel and the running game struggled until midway through the fourth quarter. Tuel also was intercepted twice in the final 30 minutes.

"Jeff didn't have a lot of time to get throws off," Wulff said. "He's an accurate player. But every time he was throwing the ball, he was getting hit."

On its second scoring drive, sophomore Logwone Mitz and Tardy combined to carry the ball five times for 53 yards before Tuel found Karstetter for an 8-yard touchdown. But the Irish led 40-14 at that point.

The Cougars' defense produced better numbers in the second half, but Clausen was knocked out of the game in the third quarter on a shoestring sack by junior defensive tackle Toby Turpin. Clausen led two drives in the third quarter and directed the offense to three points on a 23-yard Tausch field goal.

BACKUP DAYNE CRIST replaced him and, after struggling a bit himself, threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to John Goodman in the fourth quarter before he was also later injured on a sack.

"I thought we played hard, but we didn't execute very well," Wulff said. "We didn't tackle well."

One possible exception was senior safety Xavier Hicks, who was congratulated by Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis after the game. Hicks broke up several passes and finished with 10 tackles. Fellow starting safety Chima Nwachukwu was injured and Wulff had no timeline on how long he will be out.

Cougfan.com Recommended Stories