WASHINGTON STATE GOT off to another slow start in a 48-7 loss at Arizona and Jeff Tuel left with a right kneecap injury in the second quarter. Plus, a pair of safeties and an offensive lineman also left with injuries. But the Cougars finally return home Saturday -- it will have been more than a month since WSU played at home -- against UCLA, a team they have beaten regularly in Pullman.
Listed among the pregame Arizona notes was another ugly statistic for WSU. The Cougars entered Saturday's game at Arizona with losses in 17 of their last 18 games against top-25 opponents.
They left little doubt that would change from the opening kickoff.
WSU (1-8 overall, 0-6 conference) won the coin toss but elected to defer until the second half. The Wildcats (6-2, 4-1) needed just 13 seconds to score when Travis Cobb took the opening kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown.
"It was frustrating for us," WSU coach Paul Wulff said during a postgame radio interview. "We didn't get down there good enough and get off blocks."
Color commentator Jim Walden was critical of the decision to defer on the radio broadcast, saying that the Cougars' offense -- despite their inexperience -- is better than their defense. WSU entered the game ranked 119th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense.
IT SHOWED AGAIN during the first quarter where the Cougars have been consistently awful throughout the season. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Turner and Keola Antolin ran for a 1-yard score on the ensuing drive. A 21-yard field goal by Alex Zendejas gave the Wildcats a 24-0 lead entering the second quarter.
The Cougars, who now have been outscored 145-3 in the opening period, went three-and-out during their first four drives. Tuel fumbled on a sack on the final series early in the second quarter that was recovered at WSU's 14-yard line.
Arizona, which scored on all six of its first-half possessions, took advantage as Nick Booth crossed the end zone on a 1-yard run after just three plays.
IT LOOKED LIKE the Cougars might score on their next drive behind the running of true freshman Carl Winston and Dwight Tardy, who combined for 63 yards on the drive. WSU drove down to the Arizona 9 before true freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Xavier Kelley.
Tuel, who completed 5 of 10 passes for 23 yards, left with a subluxed right kneecap. He was replaced by sophomore Marshall Lobbestael. Tuel will be kept on crutches for two days and then evaluated to see if he can practice on Tuesday, the Cougs' normal first practice day of the week.
He was far from the team's only loss. A pair of redshirt freshman safeties -- Jay Matthews (shoulder) and Kyle McCartney (broken fibula) -- left in the first half with injuries. McCartney's injury will end his season.
The Cougars have been hit hard at that position. Sophomore Tyree Toomer (pectoral) has not played a down this season and is redshirting, while two players who have started games this season, redshirt freshman LeAndre Daniels (broken leg) and junior Chima Nwachukwu (ankle), along with Eric Block (ulcerative colitis) are out.
WSU also took another hit on the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer suffered a high ankle sprain and is out indefinitely. Wulff said Pencer tried to play through the injury, but he was forced to insert true freshman Alex Reitnouer in the second quarter because of several protection issues.
THE WILDCATS INSERTED sophomore quarterback Matt Scott late in the second quarter and then again for good in the third. He guided them on a 14-play drive before a 27-yard field goal by Zendejas made it 34-0 at halftime.
"We're just tired," Walden said. "We look heavy-legged. This is a tired and beat up football team and it shows."
With many of its subs coming in during the second half, Arizona scored a touchdown in each of the final two quarters. A 61-yard punt by junior Reid Forrest was returned for an 86-yard touchdown by William Wright in the third quarter and Taimi Tutogi scored on a 1-yard run in the final period.
THE COUGARS WERE able to avoid the shutout, though. Despite its record and early game performances, WSU has not been held without points in a game this year. The Cougars were shutout three times last year after not being held without points in a game since 1984. Lobbestael hit sophomore Jared Karstetter for a 64-yard touchdown with 6 minutes, 23 seconds left.
"It was a great one-handed catch," Wulff said. "Jared always seems to make a play. He's going to be a guy we can really rally on the next couple of years."
Forrest averaged 44.6 yards per punt on eight opportunities.
BUT THE WILDCATS dominated just about every other statistic. They outgained the Cougars 470-187 and held the ball for 41:19.
"It gets hard when our offense isn't in rhythm," said WSU senior safety Xavier Hicks, who had a team-high 12 tackles. "But I think we've done a good job of being tough."
Wulff said some of that has to do with an Arizona program that has been rebuilt by sixth-year coach Mike Stoops. The Wildcats finished 3-8 during his first two seasons, had their first winning record just last year in Year 5, and now is bowl eligible for a second straight year in '09.
"They've got good team speed and are solid in all phases," Wulff said. "There's a big difference right now between them and our guys. We've got to get these guys to grow up."
That includes improved tackling.
"We work so much on tackling," Wulff said. "I think we have people in position. We've just got to make more plays. We've got to do a better job of coaching it obviously."
WSU RETURNS TO Martin Stadium for the first time since its 27-14 loss Oct. 10 against Arizona State when it plays at 2 p.m. Saturday against UCLA. ASU has been the Cougars' only home game since a 30-27 overtime win Sept. 19 against Southern Methodist.
The Bruins, who defeated Washington 24-23 on Saturday for their first Pac-10 win, have struggled in Pullman since the mid 1990s. They have lost 5 of 6 at Martin Stadium since winning in 1993.
"We need a crowd," Wulff said. "We need to get our kids jazzed up."
The Wildcats held possession for 41 minutes, 19 seconds.
Arizona's Travis Cobb opened the game with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
NOT TO BE OVERSHADOWED:
WSU wide receiver Jared Karstetter had a 64-yard touchdown reception.
After Cobb's score, the Wildcats needed just three plays for Nick Foles to connect with Terrell Turner on a 28-yard touchdown pass on their second possession. Arizona scored on each of its first seven drives.